SAINT PETERSBURG, Russian Federation, Jun 18 – England and Belgium got their World Cup campaigns off to winning starts as the Video Assistant Referee system proved its worth to help Sweden edge past South Korea on Monday.
Here, AFP Sports looks at three things we learned today at the World Cup.
Kane kickstarts England
England captain Harry Kane didn’t play down his expectations on the eve of the Three Lions opener against Tunisia, claiming Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick for Portugal against Spain had already put him under pressure in the race for the Golden Boot.
Kane didn’t get the hat-trick he wanted, but now trails Ronaldo by just one after riding to his country’s rescue with a double to seal England’s first opening win at a major tournament since 2006.
Three points were little more than Gareth Southgate’s side deserved even if they laboured to break Tunisia down in the second-half.
The game should have been out of sight but for a series of gilt-edged misses by Jesse Lingard before the break.
Kane had already shown his predatory instinct after just 11 minutes to tap home from close range and thankfully for England the ball fell to Kane once more as the clock ticked into stoppage time in Volgograd to produce a deadly near post header to break Tunisia’s resistence.
Belgium still seeking balance
Unlike a host of the other pre-tournament favourites, Belgium got off to a winning start against World Cup debutants Panama, but a 3-0 victory did little to convince the Red Devils golden generation are ready to deliver on their potential.
Coach Roberto Martinez has tried to cram as much of Beglium’s attacking talent as possible into his starting XI in a 3-4-2-1.
However, with Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku all starting from central areas, they often lacked width to stretch the Panama defence in a goalless first-half.
Mertens’s sensational dipping volley just after the break and two fine finishes from Lukaku underlined the moments of individual brilliance Martinez can rely on.
But much sterner tests await of whether Martinez’s set-up will leave Belgium too exposed against better opposition.
‘Keepers blame FIFA for balls up
An old favourite World Cup controversy is beginning to bubble again, with Egypt goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary directing criticism towards the tournament’s ball on Monday.
One burst during the match between France and Australia on Saturday while long-range strikes from Aleksandar Kolarov and Philippe Coutinho have caused some to suggest Adidas’ ‘Telstar 18’ is too heavily weighted in the striker’s favour.
“We are victims of FIFA and the ever developing football,” said El-Hadary who, at 45 years old, has seen a few.
“Every four years there are new footballs. The ball might be more acceptable to the players than goalkeepers but I am sure there have been previous footballs that have been of the same quality in the past.”
Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is also not convinced. “I know what you are talking about and there was a lot of criticism against this ball but we cannot change this now,” he said. “Technology is improving and players are scoring from 40 metres.”