Highlights and talking points from last night’s draw at Azteca

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When the games ends as it started, there usually aren’t many highlights, but when you lump all of Mexico’s chances together in a six-minute clip, you realize all the things that had to go right for the U.S. to get out of Azteca with a point.

The first thing that went right was their effort, from the Man of the Match to players like Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, who showed stark improvement as the game went on. But beyond that effort, you really have to look at the places Mexico failed to convert.

Some other talking points:

  • We forget that the U.S. actually had some nice forays forward in the first half, with combination play through the middle forcing corner kicks, one of which Geoff Cameron almost converted. They didn’t offer much, and they finished the game without having tested Guillermo Ochoa, but particularly in the 10-12 minutes before halftime, the U.S. showed some sparks.
  • Carlos Salcido had far too much time on the ball. Starting with an eighth minute diagonal that forced a yellow card-worthy foul from DeMarcus Beasley, the defender-cum-midfielder strung together a number of long passes that made you wonder: Where’s Clint Dempsey? Perhaps the plan didn’t call for him to come back on Mexico’s last midfielder, but with a second half chip over the U.S.’s defense, Salcido nearly made the States pay for giving him time to execute.
  • Giovanni Dos Santos could have really broken this match open, but it would have required him to be Gold Cup Gio, not the guy we saw last night. It’s not that the Mallorca man was bad, but particularly in the first half when he was running in behind  Cameron, Dos Santos had his chances to craft something dangerous. A few times he did, but against a U.S. defense that grew stronger as the match went on, Mexico needed their stars to shine.
  • Speaking of dimmed stars, Javier Hernandez has reason to dwell on a couple of last night’s chances. The first half cross from Jorge Torres Nilo? That second half corner that bounced over his foot? “Chicharito” has to finish those.
  • The Maurice Edu second half foul on Javier Aquino was horrible. And it looks worse every time you see it. Terrible decision by Edu. Worse non-call by the official. You could say something trite like “that’s a penalty seven days a week and twice on Sunday,” but it wasn’t a penalty on Tuesday. Remarkably.
  • As for Aquino, it’d be fair to say the U.S. had no answer for him. The States didn’t miss Fabian Johnson on Friday, but boy was he missed on Tuesday. Nice effort from Beasley, but just like on the right, the U.S. needs their left backs healthy.
  • Angel Reyna really gave Mexico a spark in the second half. His efforts may have stymied any intent the U.S. had of using the substitutions of Eddie Johnson, Brad Davis, and Brek Shea as cause to go for three. Instead, thanks in large part to Reyna in the middle, the U.S. were left to hold out.

Kane scores early and late, England narrowly top Tunisia

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England’s 2018 World Cup debut began brilliantly, then appeared headed for a disappointingly familiar outcome, but was ultimately saved by Harry Kane who scored both goals in the Three Lions’ 2-1 victory over Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday.

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England came sprinting out of the starting blocks — so quickly they nearly took flight — and taking an early lead through Harry Kane in the 11th minute (WATCH HERE). John Stones‘ header was spectacularly saved by Mouez Hassen, but Kane was in the right place at the right time and swept home the rebound for his first World Cup goal (on his World Cup debut).

The opening half-hour was all England, with the likes of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling cutting through the Tunisian midfield and defense with very little resistance and creating a half-dozen golden scoring chances. Unfortunately for Gareth Southgate‘s side, they couldn’t capitalize, and they were made to pay for it.

Kyle Walker caught Fakhreddine Ben Youssef with a raised arm as an innocuous cross came into the box, prompting referee Wilmar Roldan to blow his whistle and point to the penalty spot immediately. Ferjani Sassi stepped up and converted, just out of reach of Jordan Pickford, who perhaps got a fingertip on the ball (WATCH HERE), to make it 1-1 and negate an otherwise dominant first-half performance by England. It would be Tunisia’s only shot on goal for the game.

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England’s best chance to re-establish a lead came during a six-yard-box scramble just seconds before halftime. Alli’s header hit the crossbar and Stones badly scuffed — nearly whiffed — on the follow-up. Kane was dragged to the ground during the rest of the commotion, to no interest of Roldan.

It took far longer than anyone back home in England would have liked, but Kane grabbed the winner in the 91st minute, heading home from acres of space at the back post. Jordan Henderson got the first crack at heading the corner kick, but it was blocked and bound high into the air. Somehow, some way, Kane was unmarked and snuck his redirect just inside the post.

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Up next for England is a meeting with Panama on Sunday, a day after Tunisia take on Belgium, who thrashed the Panamanians, 3-0, on Monday.

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.

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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.