At Toronto FC, butting in where only a coach should

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Most of us will never for sure about the true dearth of conditioning for the Toronto FC players as they came into preseason camp.

Are we talking a few extra Christmas cookies here, just enough misdemeanor stuff to shave a few points off the fitness testing? Or was this closer to true felony flab?

But most reasonable folks among us do know this:

All kinds of question marks go flying when a team president is speaking directly to players about matters the coach should be addressing.

Toronto FC president Kevin Payne has blasted his team’s collective level of conditioning. Conditioning, of course, is an area that almost always falls under coaching purview.

Granted, this is a unique situation, where the coach was hired while he was still, well, a little busy. Ryan Nelsen is only now coming aboard, more than a week into preseason training, having finalized his playing days with Queens Park Rangers.

(MORE: Reactions to the odd situation previously around TFC)

Neither should Payne make a habit of harking back to his long days at D.C. United, as in, “This is how we did it at United …” Check the box on “very bad idea” on that one, which would quickly become tiresome to TFC fans who, you know, don’t really care about how Payne or anyone else did things at United.

Here’s what Payne had to say about several Toronto FC players:

I told them, ‘You will never, ever come back here after a break looking like this again. It just won’t happen, or you won’t be here, end of story.’ Lots of guys did a great job, came back in great shape, but there were more than one or two who were not close to being fit.”

In D.C., we didn’t accept it and there was an enormous level of peer pressure brought to bear on guys that showed up unfit, and we need to get to that point here. That’s not the case right now. I didn’t see any evidence of that within the locker room.”

VIDEO: Tunisia equalizes on controversial penalty kick

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England centerback Kyle Walker put his arm up to halt the forward progress of Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Unfortunately for Walker, Ben Youssef was in the box and Walker’s elbow caught Ben Youssef’s face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan quickly whistled for a penalty kick and despite the protests from a half-dozen of England players and a check from the VAR, the called stood. Ferjani Sassi’stepped up to the spot and found the lower-left corner, just barely beating Jordan Pickford to tie the game in the 35th minute.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

How will England respond?

VIDEO: Captain Kane puts England on the board early

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It may be the easiest goal-scoring opportunity Harry Kane‘s ever had in an international competition, and he finished it as easy as you’d like.

Kane side-footed home after Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen made a terrific save on John Stone’s header off a corner, but the save was directed right into a wide-open Kane who was standing ready inside the six yard box. The 11th minute goal will surely settle some of the Three Lions’ nerves as they open their World Cup bid in Russia.

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After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

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But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.

VIDEO: de Bruyne delivers gorgeous assist on Lukaku goal

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It took a little bit of patience, but Romelu Lukaku finally got on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup, thanks to a delicious assist from crosstown club rival Kevin De Bruyne.

The Manchester City playmaker delivered a spectacular outside-of-the-boot cross into the box, where Lukaku’s head met it and guided it towards the far post for Belgium’s second goal of the day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news