The World Cup is hotting up now, as the quarter final line up is beginning to take shape. On Saturday Argentina beat the Australians to set up a meeting with the Netherlands – a repeat of the 1978 cup final; then on Sunday first of all the French eased past Poland, before in the evening England produced a professional display to see off a slightly disappointing Senegal, with a comfortable 3-0 victory, which takes them through to a very tasty clash with the French.
This promises to be a classic with these two looking good in most of their games, and the team that makes it through will have great belief that they can go all the way and actually win the competition.
Giroud breaks all-time scoring record
France were first up against Poland in their last 16 clash, and for a large part of the first half the Poles were very much in the game and actually created the better chances, but on the stroke of half time Olivier Giroud, winning his 117th cap, became the French side’s all-time leading goalscorer, when he clipped home his 52nd goal, to overhaul Thierry Henry’s record.
Mbappe breaks a record of his own
He was set up by the brilliant Kylian Mbappe, who then demonstrated his incredible talent with two fabulous strikes, the second a magnificent curling effort into the top corner. His double took him to the top of the charts in the race for the Golden Boot, with five goals and also saw him pass the great Pele’s record of scoring seven World Cup goals before the age of 24.
England’s quick-fire double puts them in control
The English looked a little out of sorts in the opening exchanges against the African champions Senegal, but some poor finishing, and a good save by goalkeeper Jordan Pickford kept them in it, and a couple of tweaks in the formation saw them wrestle control in the final 10 minutes of the half, with two quick goals.
Firstly Jordan Henderson finished off smartly after great work from Jude Bellingham and then Harry Kane smashed home his first goal of the tournament, following more good work from Bellingham, and an unselfish lay off by Phil Foden. The brilliant Manchester City ace then set up Bukayo Saka early in the second half, to seal the win and allow them to play out the remainder of the game in what turned into almost a training exercise.
When captain Kane broke his duck for the event, he moved within one goal of Wayne Rooney’s all-time record of 53 and will fancy his chances of at least equalling it, before he returns home from Qatar.
Bellingham adds quality and balance to make England real threat
Bellingham was the outstanding player on the pitch with a performance that bellied his 19 years. He has emerged as a vital element to this England team and seems to be getting better with every passing game. The young Dortmund midfielder has added balance to the side and the team will have gained a lot of confidence in the way they have been able to click just at the right time.
Sterling has to leave camp due to personal matters
Manager Gareth Southgate had confirmed before the start that important wide-man Raheem Sterling had left the squad and flown back home, after his family were confronted in their home by armed robbers, leaving them badly shaken. It is unclear as to whether the Chelsea man will return for the quarter final. The Three Lions boss said: “We want to give him that space and we will see over the next few days how that develops.”
More records being broken
So the clash of two of the current top five ranked teams in the world is set up to be titanic battle, and will see another heavyweight leave the competition. For France they will very likely see yet another of their national records broken, if as expected goalkeeper Hugo Lloris lines up against England. He will win his 143rd cap, which would take him beyond the record currently held by defender Lilian Thuram.
It is all coming together at the right time for Southgate’s men
For the English it is a massive challenge and at the start of the tournament they would not have been given too much of a chance; but their form, in the main, has been very impressive. They have found a formula and system that enables their plethora of talented attacking players to utilise their skills to the maximum, and when all the pieces fall into place, they take a lot of beating.
Massive global interest in “heavyweight” clash
Naturally Mbappe will have plenty to say about that and his displays have been sensational at times. It is a match that will have football fans all around the world tuning in to see a mouth-watering contest, that is incredibly difficult to call. There is a very real possibility that this tie could go all the way to penalties, something the English will be dreading, given their record in shoot-outs at past tournaments. The game will be played at the 60,000 capacity Al Bayt Stadium, on Saturday 10 December, kicking off at 10pm Qatar time.
Japanese many people’s adopted second team
The four remaining Last 16 ties will be completed in the next couple of days with first of all Japan taking on Croatia. Many people have taken a shine to the Japanese side after their fabulous comeback performances against Germany and Spain, so they will possibly have a high percentage of support against the Croatians, who it should be remembered, reached the final four years ago.
Tournament favourites probably one hurdle too many?
Awaiting them in the quarter finals will be the winner of the game between Brazil and South Korea. The Asian side are another who have shown tremendous fighting spirit and the scenes after their late goal which knocked out Uruguay will last long in the memory. However, Brazil are a different matter and it is really difficult to see the Koreans pulling of what would be the biggest shock of all in this tournament, were they able to get the better of the competition favourites.
Possibly a World Cup too soon for the Spanish?
Spain looked imperious in their opening group game when they put seven past Costa Rica, but they showed they have a vulnerability when they were pegged back against the Japanese and gave the impression that their young side are not quite ready to go all the way. Their opponents will be Morocco, who surprised many by winning their group and in the process helping to eliminate Belgium; so it is really tricky to separate those two in that game.
As usual great Swiss timing
They will play the victors in a match between Portugal – who despite their obvious talent still flatter to deceive – and Switzerland. The Swiss have done what the tend to do in most tournaments, which is sneak through quietly without too much fuss, and they could have enough disciple to punish the Portuguese and set themselves up for a quarter final berth.