Liverpool begin brightly without Suarez

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Daniel Sturridge gave Liverpool fans hope in the absence of Luis Suarez as the Reds take the first three points of the new Premier League season.

Sturridge, who performed admirably last season when Suarez was out of the lineup, again stepped up at rainy Anfield as the hosts proved their new attacking lineup could create a vast number of chances.

It was an exciting start to the first match of the new season.  Liverpool pressed very high up the pitch and exerted lots of energy quickly.  New boy Iago Aspas showed pace and ability to find space in the beginning.  They utilized the wide areas to bring the ball forward, making passes into the box often from the deep wing.

Stoke, however, had some chances to counter early but the passing was poor.  It was passing nonetheless, as the delighted away fans at Anfield sang “We’re Stoke City, and we’re passing the ball!”

The chances were begging in the first half, but nobody was able to convert.  Stoke won a corner in the 8th minute and a Robert Huth volley clattered the crossbar, Liverpool’s new defender Kolo Toure also rattled the crossbar on the other end a few minutes later. Sturridge found the back of the net with a header off a free kick, but the assistant referee’s offsides flag correctly went up to rule out the goal.

The game settled down considerably after the first 15 minutes, as the teams battled hard in the midfield for possession.  Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic did all he could to keep Liverpool out in the first half.  LFC got a chance in the 29th minute on an absolutely wonderful move by Coutinho on the edge that resulted in a one-two between Jose Enrique and Iago Aspas, but Enrique’s shot from close range was saved by Begovic.  The Bosnian keeper again denied a clear chance for Liverpool six minutes later as another lovely ball from Coutinho found Jordan Henderson making a run in the box but he misfired and Begovic held strong.

Finally the breakthrough came as Sturridge got a small bit of space on the outside of the box and decided to have a go on the ground, as the ball nutmegged Huth and found the far post for the opening goal of the 2013/14 season.

Jonathan Walters nearly equalized before halftime with a stinging shot from distance but a superb diving save by Simon Mignolet kept him out.

Liverpool began the second half where they left off, as Jordan Henderson found himself with a breakaway chance just two minutes in, but missed wide right.  The midfielder again came oh so close as he shook the far post on a shot from the right side of the box, as goal-line technology confirmed the ball did not cross the line from a tight angle.

Stoke pushed forward in the final 20 minutes, but it wasn’t enough as they still couldn’t produce much for Mignolet to do. Steven Gerrard gave fans watching a glimpse of his past as he rocketed a free kick from incredibly far out almost into the top corner if not for another fantastic diving effort by Begovic.

The penalty at the end was a serious mistake that almost cost them the game, but in addition to the attack Liverpool will be delighted with the performance of Mignolet, who saved the three points as Jonathan Walters will hang his head after his poor penalty.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers did give us a glimpse into a possible resolution on the Suarez saga.  In his postmatch presser, Rodgers claimed “I am satisfied with how everything has been resolved and we as a club are looking to the future” before adding Suarez “is smiling and happy and we’ll move on.”

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.

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.

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