Sunday, 15 July 2018

White Ensign 1 Basildon United 2

Pre-Season Friendly, Saturday 14th July 2018

New signing Eljay Worrell netted an early second half free-kick to help Basildon United win their latest pre-season friendly as they defeated local rivals White Ensign at Len Forge.

On another hot day the hosts, who have now entered senior status after being accepted into the new step six Eastern Senior League South Division, were looking to build on their superb win at Great Wakering Rovers two days before, however they were up against newly promoted Basildon United who will be in the Bostick North Division for the coming season, who had also netted a good win against Stansted two days prior to this.

The Bees were the first to have an opening as another new arrival, Brian Moses, charged past an Ensign defender as if he wasn’t there, but his effort was blocked before a follow up effort was cleared off the line by the hosts, before the visitors then fired wide from long range, this after Ensign had got in down the right but saw their cross cleared.

And then in the 17th minute saw a huge chance for the hosts when a poor goal kick from the Bees keeper found an Ensign player who played the ball to a teammate who turned and lofted an effort against the bar, before the follow up was blocked, and the chance had gone.

The Bees then dragged an effort wide two minutes later, and this game was being played at a fairly decent tempo as both sides looked to get their noses in front.  Just beyond the half hour mark Ensign almost got in until a last-ditch tackle thwarted them, but the step six hosts were more than holding their own against their step four opponents.

They nearly gifted Basildon the lead twice in the coming minutes though, firstly in the 34th minute when a poor clearance allowed the visitors in but the effort was deflected wide, before two minutes later Kendall was presented with the ball by poor Ensign defending but the effort was dragged horribly wide.

And then six minutes before the break Ensign broke the deadlock when a ball through saw Liam Sewell run onto it and he coolly slotted home and the hosts led, although the lead lasted two minutes as the visitors levelled thanks to a great long-range effort giving the hosts keeper no chance whatsoever.

The Bees saw Moses hit an effort straight at the keeper and also see Kendall head over an Asamoah cross right on half time, but this good competitive friendly reached the break all square.

Half Time White Ensign 1 Basildon United 1

The Bees began the second half well and should have taken the lead five minutes into it when Remi Nelson, another new addition for the Bostick side, head an effort against the post before somehow blasting the rebound wide, but a minute later they did lead when Worrell curled home a brilliant free-kick and the Bees had turned this one around.

Ensign’s first opening of the second period didn’t arrive until the hour mark but it was a poor side footed effort which was easy for the keeper, before Moses went close for the Bees but saw his effort deflected into the side netting, which cued a mass change of personnel from the visitors, who changed most of their eleven as well as their kit!!!

Ensign almost netted an equaliser in the 69th minute but saw their effort tipped wide, and then with thirteen minutes left a good run from Bees winger Jamie Brown, who used to play for Ensign, set up Marcus Bowers but his effort was always rising and it flew over the bar.

With six minutes left Ensign tried an effort from long range which almost caught out the keeper, but it was the visitors who edged this one to make it another win in pre-season.  A very enjoyable game though and lost of positives for both sides to take from this one.

Full Time White Ensign 1 Basildon United 2 

Monday, 9 July 2018

FIFA Football World Cup Russia 2018 - Quarter Finals

So we had reached the Quarter Finals, and eight teams remained, and all still believed they could go all the way in this tournament.  Here is how those four ties went:-

Friday 6th July
Uruguay 0 France 2
France are into the World Cup semi final for the first time in twelve years after they saw off Uruguay to set up a last four clash with Belgium.  This tie in terms of entertainment did not come close to Les Bleus win over Argentina in the Round of 16, but it will still be rememebered for the contrasting fortunes of both keepers in this one.  More about that later on, but the French saw Raphael Varane head them into a first half lead after Antoine Greizmann had swung in a free kick, the Real Madrid defender glancing home a perfect centre, and saw Les Bleus ahead.  Uruguay, who were missing Edison Cavani through injury, almost levelled immediately from a free kick of their own, but saw Hugo Lloris produce a wonderful save to deny Martin Caceres, before Diego Godin could only blast over the rebound.  France continued to control possession at the start of the second period, and were then gifted a goal to tighten their grip on proceedings when Griezmann let fly from the edge of the box, and there seemed no danger but Fernando Muslera misjudged the flight of the ball, flapped at the shot, and saw it loop slowly over the line to leave the Uruguay keeper rather red faced.  And despite the South American side throwing bodies forward in the closing stages, they could not seriously trouble Lloris, and their run of four successive wins came to an end, meaning they go home at the Quarter Final stage.

Brazil 1 Belgium 2
Belgium put in a terrific performance to dispatch five time world cup winners and pre tournament favourites Brazil out of the competition and reach the semi finals for the first time in 32 years.  The Brazilians, who had conceded just one goal in their past four world cup games, fell behind early on when a Nacer Chadli corner went in off Fernandinho which was the tenth own goal at this years world cup, although it could of been different had Thiago Silva not missed a gaping goal from a Neymar corner, seeing his effort loop onto the Belgian's post, prior to the European's going in front.  It was an open and entertaining contest, however the Samba boys were caught on the counter and saw the Belgians double their lead when Lukaku's powerful run ended up with Kevin de Bruyne, who struck a marvellous arrowed finish into the corner of the net, and the Brazilian boys knew a magic second half was needed if they were to remain in the tournament.  And with fifteen minutes remaining they were given hope when substitute Renato Augusto nodded home a delightful pass from Philippe Coutinho, but the Red Devils held firm to stun their opponents and set up a mouthwatering semi final with the French.

Saturday 7th July
Sweden 0 England 2
England are into the last four of a world cup for the first time in 28 years after goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli either side of the break saw them defeat Sweden in Samara.  Maguire, who was again outstanding in the heart of the defence for the English, broke the deadlock just past the hour hour mark, when yet another England set play bore fruit as the centre half powered a header beyond keeper Robin Olsen after an Ashley Young corner had found him.  England could of doubled their lead when Raheem Stirling saw his effort saved by Olsen after getting in behind the Swedish backline, and then Jordan Pickford denied the Swedes an equaliser with a super stop from Marcus Berg, before England doubled their lead just before the hour mark when Alli headed home a Jesse Lingard centre to give England a cushion.  Pickford did deny Sweden twice more late on, firstly denying Viktor Claesson and then Berg again, to secure his first world cup clean sheet, and in the end see the Three Lions confortably through to the Semi Finals and a showdown with Croatia on Wednesday.  It is also only the third time England have reached the semi finals after 1966 and 1990, so this is already a terrific achievement from the Three Lions.

Russia 2 Croatia 2 (aet; Croatia won 4-3 on penalties)
The hosts remarkable run at this world cup ended in penalty shoot out heartache as they were edged out by Croatia who set up a semi final tie against England on Wednesday.  The Russian's, who had got this far against all the odd's and were contesting their first Quarter Final since 1970 in their Soviet Union days, took a shock lead when Denis Cheryshev curled a wonderful effort into the top corner for one of the finest strikes at this world cup and Russia believed once again that their team could continue this remarkable run.  But only eight minutes later Andrej Kramaric headed the Croats level, and then after the break Ivan Perisic saw a low effort come back off the inside of Russia's post and across goal as the hosts lived a charmed life.  The game ended up going to extra time and it was the Croats who edged in front when Domagoj Vida's headed through a crowded area and into the corner, however Russia managed to pull something out of the bag when Mario Fernandez headed home six minutes from the end of extra time to force penalties and bring this tie back into the melting pot.   Fedor Smolov missed the first penalty for the hosts when his weak effort was saved by Danijel Subasic, whilst Igor Akinfeev gave Russia hope when he stopped Mateo Kovacic's low spot kick, however Fernandez stuck his spot kick wide and it came down to Ivan Rakitic needing to score to send his side through, and he did just that and cued excited team mates mobbing him as Croatia reached the last four for the first time in twenty years.  And despite the Russian's exit, their fans broke into heartfelt applause as they cheered their beaten side long and loud after the final whistle in recognition at how good their achievements in this world cup had been.

Here is the semi final line up:-
Tuesday 10th July
France vs Belgium (7pm)

Wednesday 11th July
Croatia vs England (7pm)

So four teams now remain, France, Belgium, Croatia and our very own England.  It has been a remarkable world cup and a first has happened in the history of the competition as after Brazil's exit it means this is the first time ever that neither Argentina, Brazil or Germany will appear in the Semi Finals.  And for the teams left this isn't a regular appearance either in recent times, with France (12 years), Belgium (32 years), Croatia (20 years) and England (28 years) since they were last in the final four at a world cup.  For entertainment the Brazil vs Belgium clash was the best Quarter Final, whilst the Russia vs Croatia gave us the most drama, and it leaves us with the above semi finals.  France vs Belgium will be a cracker, and I feel the winners will probably come from this tie, whilst the Croatia vs England contest will probably be a tight tense affair.  Both will believe they can still win it, in fact all four teams left will believe they are good enough, proves to be another couple of decent contests as they battle for a place in Sunday's final. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

FIFA Football World Cup Russia 2018 - Last Sixteen

So after 48 games, 122 goals, and plenty of drama in the group stages, it was time for the Last Sixteen of the Football World Cup, and it began in Kazan on a sunny Saturday in Russia as France took on Argentina, here is what happened in that contest and the other seven ties: -

Saturday 30th June

France 4 Argentina 3

French teenage forward Kylian Mbappe announced his arrival on the world stage by becoming the first teenager to net multiple goals at a world cup since Michael Owen did that in 1998, as his brace saw France overpower Argentina in a thrilling game.  The French began well and saw Antoine Griezmann strike the bar with a free-kick, but in the 13th minute Griezmann put France ahead from the spot after Mbappe had produced an amazing lung-busting run from his own half before it was ended illegally by Marcos Rojo.  You felt if the French could add another it could be embarrassing for the South Americans, however this never happened and four minutes before half time the Argentinian’s struck from nowhere when Angel Di Maria produced a stunning long range effort which Hugo Lloris had no chance with, and the sides went into the break all square.  And unbelievably the South Americans then took the lead early in the second half when Gabriel Mercado cleverly diverted a Lionel Messi shot past Lloris and the French were suddenly chasing the game after having controlled it for the most part.  So what did the French have?  Well plenty as it turned out, and they were only behind for nine minutes as Benjamin Pavard produced an equally stunning strike with his right foot to bring them level, and then seven minutes after that Mbappe got his first goal, beating a man before striking powerfully underneath Franco Armani’s body, although the keeper may feel he should of done better with the effort, however it meant the French had turned this one back around.   The French were now flowing and they made it three goals in eleven second half minutes when a swift counter-attack saw Mbappe onto a pass and he slotted brilliantly beyond Armani and saw the French taking total control again.  The Argies never really looked like recovering from this blow, and although they did grab a third goal deep into stoppage time, when substitute Sergio Aguero headed home a pin-point cross from Messi, it was too little too late and the French grabbed a deserved win and a place in the Quarter Finals where they will meet Uruguay, who disposed of Portugal in their last sixteen tie.

Uruguay 2 Portugal 1

Edinson Cavani netted two stunning goals as he helped Uruguay to victory against Portugal, setting up a Quarter Final against France.  Uruguay drew first blood in the seventh minute when after Cavani had driven a Crossfield pass over to strike partner Luis Suarez, the Barcelona striker then sent in a pin-point cross for Cavani to run in behind at the back post and head beyond keeper Rui Patricio, and give his side a perfect start.  And it was to stay like that until the break, as a solid Uruguay defence, which were yet to be breached at this World Cup, found Ronaldo and Co fairly easy to keep at bay.  But ten minutes into the second half that was to change, as Pepe rose unmarked to nod past keeper Fernando Muslera and bring the European Champions level, and they appeared to be getting on top as Uruguay were struggling to get any possession whatsoever.  The brilliant Cavani though changed the course of this contest once again though, when he steered a wonderful first time effort beyond Rui Patricio into the far corner, and restore his sides lead.  The striker limped off late on though with a hamstring injury, so Uruguay will hope he isn’t to bad, but early indications are not great.  Portugal tried their best to take the tie into extra-time late on, but found the blue wall in the way, and it meant Portugal go out at the last sixteen stage, meaning Messi and Ronaldo leave us on the same day.

Sunday 1st July

Spain 1 Russia 1 (aet; Russia won 4-3 on penalties)

Hosts Russia pulled off the biggest shock of the World Cup so far after they knocked out Spain on penalties after the sides could not be separated in the previous 120 minutes of football in Moscow. The Russians came into this tournament as the lowest ranked nation, 60 places below the Spanish, and just reaching the last sixteen was an achievement in itself, however no one gave them a chance against one of the giants in world football.  And on 12 minutes the Spanish grabbed the lead when Sergey Ignashevich inadvertently diverted a Marco Asensio free-kick past his own keeper whilst trying to wrestle Sergio Ramos to the floor, but Spain failed to turn their dominance of possession into chances.  And they were made to pay for this four minutes before half-time when the hosts won a penalty when Artem Dzyuba’s header hit Gerard Pique’s arm, and Dzyuba stepped up himself to stick the penalty away, and the Russian’s were level.  Andreas Iniesta, who was left out of the starting XI for Spain, was the only one to threaten to break the Russian resolve, and when the Spaniard’s did finally manage a sight of goal in extra time, Igor Akinfeev denied Rodrigo, meaning it went to penalties.  And Russia managed to score all their penalty kicks, whilst Spain couldn’t, meaning the hosts pulled off an incredible victory and are now in the Last Eight where they take on Croatia who also won on penalties against Denmark, what a story for the hosts!!!

Croatia 1 Denmark 1 (aet; Croatia won 3-2 on penalties)

Danijel Subasic saved three penalties for Croatia as his side edged out Denmark on spot-kicks after neither side could be separated in 120 minutes.  It was a match that ended in stunningly dramatic fashion, and started in the same way too, as with barely a minute gone Martin Jorgensen capitalised on chaotic defending caused by a long throw to fire a weak effort beyond Subasic, but just two minutes later Croatia were level as a scuffed clearance and an inadvertent header from Danish midfielder Martin Delaney fell into the path of Mario Mandzukic, who sent an effort beyond Kasper Schmeichel to level the game up.  However, the remainder of the 90 minutes was poor, and penalties seemed inevitable before extra time came along, but with less than five minutes left of the 120 minutes Croatia won a penalty and had the chance to win the tie before penalties, but Luka Modric saw his penalty saved by the big Dane in goal Schmeichel, and it meant the tie would indeed go to penalties.  It was a shoot out that saw the keepers dominate, however it came down to Ivan Rakitic needing to net his penalty to win, and he slotted home and it meant the Croatians were through to face hosts Russia in the Quarter Finals.  They will fancy that, and indeed the competition as a whole now, and they really must be dark horses for the tournament now, if they were not already.

Monday 2nd July

Brazil 2 Mexico 0

Second half goals from Neymar and Roberto Firmino saw Brazil edge out Mexico in Samara to reach the Last Eight of the world cup for a seventh consecutive time.  The Samba Boys were expected to progress but did not have things all their own way as Mexico dominated the opening exchanges, but Brazil grew into the contest although the opening forty-five minutes ended goalless.  That changed five minutes into the second period though when Neymar started and finished the move and got on the end of a Willian ball across goal to slide the ball home and give his side the advantage.  This came just before Mexico’s Jesus Gallardo wasted a brilliant opportunity, shooting wildly over the bar, and although Carlos Vela forced a save from Brazil keeper Alisson, their bright start was but a distant memory as Brazil gained control.  They rallied in the closing stages but Brazil stood firm and then sealed their passage into the Quarter Finals when Firmino tapped home after Neymar’s effort was diverted across goal by keeper Guillermo Ochoa, meaning the Brazilian’s meet Belgium in a mouth-watering quarter final, whilst Mexico are yet again eliminated at the last sixteen stage, just like every world cup since 1994.

Belgium 3 Japan 2

Nacer Chadli netted a 94th minute winner as Belgium staged a remarkable comeback from two goals down to defeat a heartbroken Japan and reach the Quarter Finals.  A goalless first half succumbed to a terrific second half, and it started in stunning fashion when the Japanese took a shock lead when Genki Haraguchi ran onto Gaku Shibasaki’s long ball and fired across Courtois, and although Belgium almost responded immediately when Eden Hazard struck the woodwork, Japan then doubled their lead in spectacular style when Takashi Inui produced a twenty-five-yard strike, and it looked like another big shock was on the cards at this world cup.  Belgium needed to do something to change this and brought on Marouane Fellani and Chadli after an hour to try and give themselves some impetus.  It seemed to work to as with just over twenty minutes left Jan Vertonghen sent a looping header back towards goal, and saw it drop into the far corner, to get the Europeans back into the contest.  And five minutes later one of the substitutes Fellani rose to head home a Hazard cross and suddenly Belgium were back on level terms with fifteen minutes or so to go.  Japan to their credit kept trying to attack and they had their moments in the final minutes, however just as the tie looked to be heading to extra time, Belgium broke on the attack minded Asians, and saw Chadli laid in to net the winning goal and send his side through to play Brazil in the final eight.

Tuesday 3rd July

Sweden 1 Switzerland 0

The Swedes got their dream Quarter Final tie against England after they saw off the Swiss in a strangely compelling but untidy tie in Saint Petersburg.  This was a hard one to call, despite the Swiss being ranked 18 places above their opponents in the FIFA world rankings, although as we have found out in this tournament, that counts for very little.  Swiss keeper Yann Sommer had to brilliantly claw away a Marcus Berg effort to stop the Swedes taking the lead in the first half, and late on Sommer then denied Haris Seferovic in what was a game mainly remembered for the missed chances from both sides.  But the winning moment came in the 66th minute when Emil Forsberg saw his shot deflect off Manuel Akanji and leave Sommer stranded as the ball found the net, and with time running out Sweden thought they had won a penalty when Michael Lang pushed over Martin Olsson, who was clean through on goal, which saw the Swiss player red carded.  However, after consulting with VAR, the push happened just outside the box, meaning the penalty wasn’t given and a free-kick was instead.  It did not bother the Swedes though, who reached their first Quarter Final since 1994, whilst a disappointed Switzerland go home after this defeat.

Colombia 1 England 1 (aet; England won 4-3 on penalties)

England are through to play Sweden in the Quarter Finals of the FIFA World Cup after winning their first ever World Cup penalty shoot out in a dramatic win over Colombia in Moscow.  In an atmosphere that at times felt like an away game for the English boys as they were well outnumbered in the support stakes, the young squad played with zip and energy in the opening half hour or so, but as the half grew older the Colombian’s began to try and get under the skin of their opponents, and one such flash point saw a headbutt on Jordan Henderson only result in a yellow card, when many, including myself, thought it was a certain red.  This continued in the second half too, but just before the hour mark England grabbed the lead they deserved when after Harry Kane had been hauled down inside the box, not for the first time in this competition, Kane stepped up to score and give the Three Lions belief that they could reach the Last Eight.  England looked comfortable and Colombia rarely threatened, and they looked to have emerged unscathed from this ill-disciplined match, until Yerry Mina headed home deep into stoppage time and take the tie to extra time.  The extra half hour could not find a winner either, so it meant penalties, and a nerve racking few minutes for all concerned.  Both sides netted their opening two kicks before the South Americans went 3-2 up, and then saw Henderson miss, meaning the Colombians could put one foot into the next round if they netted their fourth penalty, but they hit the bar, and then saw Kieran Tripper net meaning it was 3-3.  And then up step Jordan Pickford, who had been criticised by some for his performance against Belgium, to save Colombia’s last spot kick, meaning if Eric Dier could net England’s final penalty, it was all over.  Well he duly drove home and sent England into the Last Eight in dramatic fashion, and also send Colombia home as a result.

So, after all that drama over the last few days, it means the Quarter Final line up is as follows: -

Friday 6th July

Uruguay vs France

Brazil vs Belgium

Saturday 7th July

Sweden vs England

Russia vs Croatia

Well well well, we are now down to the Final Eight, and we have four intriguing ties to look forward to.  First up at 3pm on Friday it’s Uruguay vs France in Nizjnij Novgorod with both sides hitting fine form just at the right time.  Uruguay looked solid as always against a talented Portuguese side, whilst France were at times breath-taking against the Argentinian’s, especially 19-year-old sensation Kylian Mbappe, who netted twice in that game, so it should be an entertaining encounter.  Stand out tie, Brazil vs Belgium, then follows on Friday evening at 7pm in Kazan, and this proves to be a fantastic encounter.  Then on Saturday it’s Sweden vs England at 3pm in Samara, with the England lads probably going into the tie as favourites, however the Swedes are a tight, compact, organised side who have many big scalps to their name recently, so not to be underestimated for sure.  Finally, at 7pm Saturday evening hosts Russia take on Croatia in Sochi in what must be the hosts biggest game for some time against many people’s dark horses for the competition.  Nobody saw Russia getting out of their group, let alone reach the last eight, and although Croatia will go into this as favourites, as Spain can testify it means nothing at the end of the day, so take the Russian’s with caution as they will fight and scrap for their nation backed by a no doubt raucous home crowd.  It proves to be another drama filled two days and I’ll be back with a blog on the Quarter Finals once they have been completed.  

Thursday, 28 June 2018

FIFA Football World Cup Russia 2018 - Group Stages Final Round

(An iconic moment in the final round of Group Stages saw Messi celebrating with scorer Marcus Rojo after his winner against Nigeria put Argentina through to the last sixteen, thanks to Action Images Henry Romero for the photo)

So, the final week of Group Stage fixtures were upon us, and it would finally determine who would go through and who would be going out, apart from obviously the ones who already achieved this fate in the second round of group stage fixtures.  Still top spots were up for grabs in this week, so here is how those games panned out: -

Group A

Saudi Arabia 2 Egypt 1

Middle Eastern side Saudi Arabia grabbed their first win in the World Cup since 1994 by netting a stoppage time winner against Egypt to exit the tournament on a high.  Neither side could qualify for the knockout phase of the competition but wanted to leave the World Cup with at least one win, and it looked like Egypt would be that side when Mohamed Salah netted his second goal of the tournament when he lobbed over Saudi keeper Yasser Al-Mosailem midway through the first half to give the Africans the lead.  But the end of the half would prove controversial, as first of all Saudi Arabia were given a penalty for a handball, which looked harsh, however 45-year-old keeper Egyptian keeper Essam El-Hadary, who was making history for being the oldest player to play in a world cup, made a superb save from Fahad Al Muwallad’s spot kick.  But in first half stoppage time the Saudi’s were awarded another penalty, this after a rather long delay as the referee checked with VAR, they deemed his decision was correct, although again it looked debatable.  But Salman Al Faraj’s penalty found the net this time, and the sides went in level at the break.  There was far less drama in the second period, however it looked as though the game would peter out to a score draw, that was until four minutes into stoppage time when Salem Al Sawsari volleyed home the winner to give Saudi Arabia a win to take home, whilst for Egypt it’s three straight defeats and a tournament to forget.

Uruguay 3 Russia 0

Hosts Russia were given a reality check as they were brushed aside by Uruguay in their battle for group winners spot in Samara.  The hosts had had things their own way so far in the competition but found Uruguay a step to far in this contest, and the South Americans were soon in front when Luis Suarez drilled home a tenth minute free-kick, before they doubled their lead midway though the half when Diego Laxalt’s effort deflected off Denis Cheryshev and wrong-footed keeper Igor Akifneev who could not stop the ball finding the net.  And then things got worse for the Russian’s when Igor Smolnilkov was sent off for a second yellow card 35 minutes into his world cup debut, meaning the hosts had to play with ten men for pretty much an hour.   To be fair to the hosts they did wrestle back some control of the game, even with ten men, however Uruguay was always in control and saw Edison Cavani get his goal when he prodded home a rebound after a Godin header had been saved by Akinfeev, and the South Americans therefore advance as group winners and are yet to concede too.  Russia despite the defeat also advance as runners up.

Here is the final Group A table: -

                                           P            W          D            L             F            A            Pts              GD

1. Uruguay (Q)                 3            3            0            0            5            0               9              +5

2. Russia (Q)                     3            2            0            1            8            4               6              +4

3. Saudi Arabia                3            1            0            2            2            7               3              -5

4. Egypt                             3            0            0            3            2            6               0              -4

So, Uruguay showed their class today to see off the Russian’s, and they go through as Group Winners and will take on Group B runners-up Portugal in the Last Sixteen of the competition.  As for Russia, they have already surpassed many people’s expectations just to qualify for the knockout phase, and they take on Group B winners Spain in their next game.  Saudi Arabia after an awful opening game managed to salvage some pride in their next two games, and leave with a win too, whilst for Egypt it was a tournament to forget as they leave the competition with no points from three games.

Group B

Iran 1 Portugal 1

Portugal progressed into the knockout stages although late drama almost saw them miss out altogether as the match ended in farcical circumstances.  Ricardo Quaresma put Portugal ahead in stunning fashion, curling home with the outside of his boot just before half time, and then after VAR had ruled that Cristiano Ronaldo had been fouled inside the box, they had the chance to double their money and probably end the contest, but Ronaldo saw his spot kick saved and Iran remained in the tie.  Another VAR review for a red card after Ronaldo appeared to catch an opponent in the face, again very questionable, resulted in the Portuguese star receiving a yellow card, although I my eyes it was accidental and the Iranian player made a right meal of it sadly.  That was the end of the VAR fiasco either, as in stoppage time and after another VAR review for a penalty for handball, which by the way was no way handball, was overturned by the officials and a penalty was given, which Ansarifard converted, which meant Iran needed one more goal in the remainder of stoppage time to qualify at Portugal’s expense.  And incredibly they almost netted again moments later, but struck into the side netting instead, as Portugal breathed a sigh of relief, and squeezed through to the Last Sixteen.  Dramatic.

Spain 2 Morocco 2

Iago Aspas netted a stoppage time equaliser to salvage a point for Spain against already eliminated Morocco and end up winning Group B as a result.  The North Africans may already have been knocked out, but they wanted to leave the tournament with a bang, and they took a shock lead after 14 minutes when a dreadful mix-up between Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos allowed Khalid Boutaib to nip in and steal the ball, run through and then slot between David de Gea’s legs.  But it took the Spaniards just five minutes to hit back when Iniesta made amends by creating the leveller, exchanging passes with Diego Costa before getting to the byeline and cutting back for Isco to smash home into the roof of the net.  Morocco though weren’t to be deterred, and with nine minutes left they looked to have won it when Youssef En Nesyri, who plays in Spain for Malaga, powered home a superb header from fellow substitute Faycal Fajr’s corner, but their was to be more VAR drama in stoppage time as after Aspas flicked home Dani Carvajal’s low cross, the referee initially disallowed the goal, but after consultation with VAR overturned his decision and the goal stood, meaning the Spanish won the Group, and denied the Moroccan’s a famous victory.

Here is the final Group B table: -

                                           P            W          D            L             F            A            Pts              GD

1. Spain (Q)                      3            1            2            0            6            5               5              +1

2. Portugal (Q)                 3            1            2            0            5            4               5              +1

3. Iran                               3            1            1            1            2            2                4              0

4. Morocco                       3            0            1            2            2            4               1              -2

Well what a dramatic end to that group!!!  It looked for so long as if Portugal would win the group, however late drama at both games involving VAR changed all that, and Spain somehow won the group ahead of their rivals from over the border.  Iran so nearly got that second goal too which would have sent Portugal home, and Morocco were seconds away from a famous win, but in the end the two sides who were expected to go through did, however it was a close-run thing!!!  Spain now take on hosts Russia in the Last Sixteen whilst Portugal take on Uruguay.

Group C

Australia 0 Peru 2

Peru recorded their first World Cup finals win for 40 years as they ended any hopes Australia had of progression into the knockout stages by beating them in their final game of the tournament.  The Aussies knew they had to beat Peru to stand any chance of making it through and hope the French defeated Denmark, but the South Americans went ahead thanks to a fine volley from Andre Carrillo in the 18th minute.  The Aussies struggled to create anything clear-cut although excellent defending from Anderson Santamaria denied Matthew Leckie from close-range, and then the Peruvians doubled their lead when skipper Paolo Guerrero struck home into the far corner five minutes into the second half.  Christian Cueva also struck the post late on for Peru, but they ended up finishing third in the group whilst the Aussies ended their campaign bottom of the pile.

Denmark 0 France 0

The first goalless draw of the World Cup took place in Moscow as Match 37 saw Denmark and France fail to score in their Group C contest.  The game saw little in the way of goalmouth action withb the first shot on target not arriving until six minutes from the break which saw Antoine Griezmann fire a tame effort at Danish keeper Kasper Schmeichel.  Denmark did fashion the best chance of the half when French keeper Steve Mandanda just got to the ball ahead of Christian Eriksen after a excellent low cross from Andreas Cornelius, and their only shot on target came nine minutes into the second period when Mandanda saved Eriksen’s free-kick.  With Peru winning in the other game, both sides knew they were through unless something dramatic happened there, so the game rather petered out into a fairly low-key draw, bringing jeers and whistles/boos from the crowd at the final whistle.  However, neither side were bothered about that as they qualified for the knockout phase with little alarm.

Here is the final Group C table: -

                                           P            W          D            L             F            A            Pts              GD

1. France (Q)                    3            2            1            0            3            1               7              +2

2. Denmark (Q)                3            1            2            0            2            1               5              +1

3. Peru                              3            1            0            2            2            2                3              0

4. Australia                       3            0            1            2            2            5               1              -3

So, France are through as Group winners and take on Argentina who were runners up in Group D in the Last Sixteen.  Denmark go through as runners up and will take on Group D winners Croatia in the next phase.  Neither were particularly at 100% in the group stages but they won’t really care about that and now will no doubt continue to build up their performances in the knockout stage.  Peru go home with a win to their name, which meant so much to them no doubt, whilst the Aussies although gritty and determined, lacked real potency up front and that didn’t help their cause and they go home without a win to their name.

Group D

Iceland 1 Croatia 2

Ivan Persic’s late goal saw Croatia go through to the knockout phase as group winners, and at the same time ended Iceland’s participation in the tournament.  The Nordic nation knew a win could see them qualify for the last sixteen and saw Alfred Finnbogason and Birkir Bjarnason both go close before the break, but the Croats then took the lead after the interval when Milan Badelj slammed home the opener, meaning Iceland needed at least two goals to have any chance.  They therefore were forced to chase the game and hit the bar though a Sverrir Ingason header but then won a penalty after a Dejan Lovren handball, and Gylfi Sigurdsson, who missed a spot kick against Nigeria, slammed this one home and Iceland believed again.  And late on and knowing Argentina were winning against Nigeria, a goal for the Icelandic’s would be enough to qualify, however their attacks became less frequent and Croatia took more control and then as the clock ticked into the 90th minute Persic fired across the keeper to win it and end Iceland’s hopes.

Nigeria 1 Argentina 2

Marcos Rojo netted a brilliant 86th minute winner to send Argentina into the Last Sixteen by the skin of their teeth, and at the same time knock Nigeria out of the tournament in heartbraking fashion.  Lionel Messi, who has been under immense pressure in this tournament, looked back to his old self in the opening forty-five minutes, and it was he who opened the scoring in brilliant fashion, running onto a pass from Ever Banega, controlling it stone dead with his thigh, then took it onto his left foot to draw it away from Kenneth Omeruo, before producing an emphatic finish with his right foot.  He could have had a second goal too but saw a free-kick tipped brilliantly onto the post by Nigeria keeper Francis Uzoho.  However, the South Americans failed to carry on their good first half showing, and six minutes into the second period Javier Mascherano gave away a penalty, which Victor Moses duly converted, and it meant Nigeria were going through.  It looked as if an aging Argentinian side were fading as Nigeria fancied a second goal, but this did not come, and with time running out and the South American’s knowing a goal could take them through, and with four minutes left Rojo surged into the box to place Gabriel Mercado’s cross into the bottom corner and send Argentina into the next phase of the competition.  What drama indeed!!!

Here is the final Group D table: -

                                           P            W          D            L             F            A            Pts               GD

1. Croatia (Q)                   3            3            0            0            7            1               9              +6

2. Argentina (Q)              3            1            1            1            3            5                4              -2

3. Nigeria                          3            1            0            2            3            4               3              -1

4. Iceland                          3            0            1            2            2            5               1              -3

So, another dramatic finish to a group sees Argentina join Croatia in the Round of 16.  How the Argentinian’s managed to squeeze through is anyone’s guess, but they are into the last sixteen and live to fight another day.  They will take on the French so that proves to be a mouth-watering prospect, whilst the perfect Croatian’s will take on Denmark, another good contest is expected their too.  Spare a thought for Nigeria, who came within four or so minutes of progressing themselves and dumping Argentina out, whilst Iceland gave it their all too against Croatia, but sadly for them came up short.  That defeat to Nigeria ultimately gave them too much to do in their final game.

Group E

Serbia 0 Brazil 2

Brazil are through the last sixteen as group winners after they saw off a tough Serbia side thanks to goals from Paulinho and Thiago Silva, eliminating their opponents as a result.  The South Americans knew a point would be enough to qualify but they looked sharp and up for getting a positive result and took a deserved lead when Paulinho ran onto a pass from Philippe Coutinho and sent a deft lob beyond the keeper.  Serbia knew they had to win to stand any chance of progression, and they had a fifteen-minute spell after half time where they put the Brazilian defence under immense pressure, sadly for them though they could not find that all important breakthrough.  But once Silva thundered home a header from a Neymar corner, the favourites for the competition regained a measure of composure and could have added further goals, but in the end they did enough to progress safely into the next phase.

Switzerland 2 Costa Rica 2

The Swiss qualified for the last sixteen as runners up in Group E after they drew a dramatic contest with Costa Rica.  Switzerland needed just a point from their final game to confirm their passage into the next round, whilst Costa Rica were already out of the tournament, however it was the Central American side who had the better chances early on, however it was the Swiss who found the breakthrough when Blerim Dzemaili to lead at half time, but ten minutes into the second half Kendall Waston headed Los Ticos level.  With the Brazilian’s winning the Swiss knew even a defeat would see them through, however they grabbed what they thought was the winner in the 88th minute when substitute Josip Drmic netted, however the game would end in bizarre fashion when firstly Costa Rica were awarded a spot kick, only to see it overturned due to an offside, but moments later Joel Campbell was brought down inside the box for another penalty, and this one saw Bryan Ruiz hit his effort off the underside of the bar, come off keeper Yann Sommer’s head, and end up in the net for an own goal.  Despite the bizarre ending it is the Swiss who progress whilst Costa Rica go home with a point at least.

Here is the final Group E table: -

                                           P            W          D            L             F            A            Pts              GD

1. Brazil (Q)                      3            2            1            0            5            1               7              +4

2. Switzerland (Q)           3            1            2            0            5            4               5              +1

3. Serbia                           3            1            0            2            2            4               3              -2

4. Costa Rica                    3            0            1            2            2            5               1              -3

So, Brazil are safely through to the last sixteen, whilst Switzerland join them too.  Serbia will look to the Switzerland game where they led comfortably before losing that one late on as the major reason they are now going home after three games.  And Costa Rica will be disappointed to be going home with just a point, especially after their heroics four years ago in Brazil, however goals were a problem for them, apart from the last game, which was too late anyway.  Brazil now face Mexico in the next round, whilst the Swiss take on Sweden.

Group F

Mexico 0 Sweden 3

The Swedes propelled themselves into the knockout stages of the World Cup as Group winners after another dramatic final day in a Group saw them defeat Mexico in what was a very handsome victory indeed.  Mexico came into this one knowing just a point would see them top the group, where as Sweden knew they had to better Germany’s result against South Korea to progress into the last sixteen.  A goalless first half meant it was as you were in the group, but it all changed dramatically in the second period as Sweden grabbed the lead five minutes into it when Ludwig Augustinsson fired home after Viktor Claesson had totally mis-hit an effort into his path, and then they doubled their lead twelve minutes later when Andreas Granqvist smashed home his second penalty of the tournament after Hector Moreno had tripped Marcus Berg inside the box.  Mexico pressed hard for a reply, knowing a German goal could knock them out of the tournament, however they were punished again when Edson Alvarez turned an attempted clearance into his own net, and the Swedes had a three-goal cushion and were cruising through as group winners.  Carlos Vela missed a close-range header as Mexico did at least try and improve their goal difference, however they had a nervous wait to see how the German’s got on, but it was good news for the Mexican’s as the German’s shock defeat meant Mexico go through as runners up.

South Korea 2 Germany 0

Defending champions Germany, one of the favourites for the tournament before the World Cup kicked off, are out at the Group Stages for the first time in 80 years after they suffered a shock defeat to South Korea in Kazan.  Both sides could still qualify although for the Koreans to progress it was going to take a lot for that to happen, whilst the Germans knew a win would take them through to the knockout stages, but a rather dire opening forty-five minutes followed although with the other game goalless it meant Germany were still in the runners up spot.  After the break and with the Swedes netting three goals in the other game, Germany knew they had to score, but they could not find that all illusive goal and will regret how wasteful they were.  South Korea’s keeper Cho Hyeon-woo made a fine one handed save from Leon Goretzka’s header and Timo Werner volleyed wide, whilst Mats Hummels headed over the top from six yards out.  The Korean’s weren’t without their moments too, but in the second minute of stoppage time they saw Kim Young-gwon finish from close range, only to see it ruled out for offside, but VAR intervened and the decision was reversed, meaning the Germans needed two goals in the remaining seven minutes of stoppage time.  But in the 96th minute and with everyone up, including keeper Manuel Neuer, who was for some reason playing around with the ball twenty or so yards out, lost the ball to Ju Se-jong who then pinged a long ball towards the German goal and saw Son Heung-min run onto it and tap into the empty net, and confirm Germany’s exit from the competition, thus giving the South Korean’s a major scalp before they head home too.

Here is the final Group F table: -

                                           P            W          D            L             F            A            Pts              GD

1. Sweden (Q)                  3            2            0            1            5            2               6              +3

2. Mexico (Q)                   3            2            0            1            3            4               6              -1

3. South Korea                 3            1            0            2            3            3               3              0

4. Germany                      3            1            0            2            2            4               3              -2

So how about that eh?  The German’s finish bottom of Group F, unthinkable pre-tournament.  However, a poor show in their three games has seen them suffer the consequences, and thanks to Sweden’s marvellous performance today it means they end up group winners whilst Mexico breathe a sigh of relief after the Germans lost to South Korea.  An incredible end to another group, this world cup just keeps on giving doesn’t it.  Sweden will now take on Switzerland in the last sixteen whilst Mexico face Brazil.

Group G

England 0 Belgium 1

This was billed as a titanic group decider, however it turned out to be a rather disappointing spectacle, as with both sides already through to the last sixteen, and with the runners up arguably having a easier route to the semi-finals, both sides played pretty much their second XI’s in this one in the game where both sides wouldn’t have been disappointed to lose.   Belgium were the side who carved out the best openings during the game, and six minutes into the second half took the lead in spectacular fashion when Adnan Januzaj cut inside and curled a brilliant effort beyond Jordan Pickford.  England’s best chance came when Marcus Rashford was put through in the clear, however his effort was tipped wide by Thibout Courtois, and it meant that Belgium would go through as group winners and England as runners up. 

Panama 1 Tunisia 2

Tunisia came from behind to defeat Panama to exit the world cup with at least a win, after a second half strike from Wahbi Khazri settled this contest.  Both sides were playing for pride as they had both lost their opening two games so had already been knocked out of the tournament, and Panama were chasing their first ever world cup win so it still meant a lot to the players in this contest.  And in the 33rd minute Panama were dreaming of that elusive win when Jose Luis Rodriguez saw his effort deflect off Yassine Meriah for an own goal, the 50th in world cup history, to lead at half time.  But six minutes into the second half Tunisia levelled when Fakhreddine Ben Youssef tapped home Khazri’s low cross, before Khazri turned goal scorer in the 66th minute, firing home Oussama Haddadi’s cross, meaning the Tunisian’s left with some pride intact and Panama left empty handed, although for them just to be at a world cup was an achievement in itself.

Here is the final table for Group G: -

                                           P            W          D            L             F            A            Pts              GD

1. Belgium (Q)                 3            3            0            0            9            2                9              +7

2. England (Q)                  3            2            0            1            8            3               6              +5

3. Tunisia                          3            1            0            2            5            8               3              -3

4. Panama                        3            0            0            3            2            11             0              -9

So, it’s Belgium who end up top of the group after their narrow win over England, and they will now take on Japan in the round of sixteen, whilst England take on the exciting Colombian team in Moscow in their next game.  Tunisia as said above leave with some dignity in tact after they came from behind to defeat Panama to finish above them in the standings, whilst although Panama leave Russia with three defeats and eleven goals conceded, they did manage two, including that goal against England, which they will never ever forget.  Just for them to qualify for the finals was a terrific achievement in itself, just a shame they could grab that elusive first win.

Group H

Japan 0 Poland 1

The Japanese are through to the final sixteen despite losing their final group game to Poland courtesy of receiving fewer yellow cards than Senegal, who finished level with them.  In a poor contest the only goal of the game came just before the hour when Jan Bednarek volleyed home a Rafal Kurzawa free-kick, and with Colombia beating Senegal in the other game Japan knew they were through having received two fewer yellow cards.  It led to a rather farcical end to the game where both sides just passed the ball between them and had no intention of attacking at all, with even Japan substitute Makoto Hasebe, who came on with eight minutes remaining, making a ‘card’ gesture to his team-mates to make it clear they were through as it stood.  Had Poland scored again or Senegal levelled, then the Japanese would have gone out, but the results stayed as they were and Japan progressed.  Poland as we all know were already out of the competition.

Senegal 0 Colombia 1

Yerry Mina netted a 74th minute header to send Colombia through to the next round of the competition, and it also saw Senegal exit the competition in cruel circumstances.  The Senegalese thought they had won a 16th minute penalty after a tackle by Davinson Sanchez on Sadio Mane, however on review with VAR the decision was that the ball had been taken first before the player, so no penalty was awarded.  Senegal were still going through with Japan but when Poland netted in the 59th minute in their game Senegal and Colombia were the ones heading through.  But Senegal then fell behind with just over fifteen minutes remaining when Mina headed home, and it meant as things stood Japan were above Senegal because they had received less bookings.  And sadly, for the Africans the situation didn’t change and they went out, whilst Colombia go through as group winners.

Here is the final Group H table: -

                                           P            W          D            L             F            A            Pts              GD

1. Colombia (Q)               3            2            0            1            5            2               6              +3

2. Japan (Q)                      3            1            1            1            4            4               4              0

3. Senegal                         3            1            1            1            4            4               4              0

4. Poland                          3            1            0            2            2            5               3              -3

So, a rather farcical end to what had been a rather exciting and unpredictable group, but in the end it’s Colombia and Japan who progress.  However, the talking point going forward is how the Japanese went about their day, making six changes prior to kick off, and then expecting Colombia to beat Senegal to confirm their passage on least amount of bookings as it turned out.  Senegal will feel gutted on how they have exited the tournament and the rule of least number of cards deciding group placings is absurd quite frankly.  Although some may argue how else can you decide it?  Well surely something like the number of cards, which is basically the opinion of a referee, isn’t the way forward surely?  It is a shame such an exciting group had to end this way.  Anyway, it all means that Colombia now take on England in the last sixteen whilst the Japanese play Belgium for a place in the Quarter Finals.

So that concludes the Group Stages, here are your Last Sixteen ties: -

Saturday 30th June

France vs Argentina

Uruguay vs Portugal

Sunday 1st July

Spain vs Russia

Croatia vs Denmark

Monday 2nd July

Brazil vs Mexico

Belgium vs Japan

Tuesday 3rd July

Sweden vs Switzerland

Colombia vs England

Ill be back with a blog on the last sixteen once that has been completed.  This is where the tournament really begins!!!