World Cup talking points, Day 5: broken hoodoos, gnats and VAR controversy

England, Belgium and Sweden record victories as the first round of group matches continues in Russia

epa06819896 Harry Kane of England celebrates after scoring the winning goal during the FIFA World Cup 2018 group G preliminary round soccer match between Tunisia and England in Volgograd, Russia, 18 June 2018.

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English expectations met

Well, well, well. England have won their first game at a major championship, bucking a fairly dismal trend that since 1950 has seen them win just five of 23 opening matches at World Cups and European Championships. It was not without alarms as they missed countless chances in the first half to capitalise on a scintillating start and gave away a soft penalty, but manager Gareth Southgate has broken the hoodoo and his young team can only increase in confidence.

Kane is able

There had been concerns that Harry Kane had played too hard during Tottenham Hotspur’s Premier League campaign, demonstrated by his relatively lacklustre finish to a season where he had missed weeks after an ankle injury in March. With two goals in this game, both taken with the finest poacher’s instinct, the England captain showed the same predatory instincts of another Spurs striker who led the line for England, Gary Lineker, and showed that he is hungry to impress.


Read more:

Harry Kane scores late winner as England beat Tunisia in World Cup opener

Superior Sweden claim VAR-assisted win over South Korea in 2018 World Cup opener

No dream World Cup debut for Panama as Belgium and Lukaku prove too good


Nature 1 Football 0

The match in Volgograd was almost disrupted as a swarm of gnats descended on the southern Russian city ahead of the England-Tunisia game. Situated on a wide river and surrounded by swamps, the city has been besieged by insects for the past few days despite official attempts to wipe them out by spraying insecticide, but the effort was only partially successful. Players coveredthemselves in repellent and Tunisian Ferjani Sassi manfully swatted away the infestation before scoring the equalising penalty.

Pass master

Belgium cruised past Panama by the score line of 3-0, courtesy of a double from Romelu Lukaku and an outrageous volley from Dries Mertens, which could be a contender for goal of the tournament. But the standout moment of the game, which was only settled with second-half goals after the Europeans failed to spark in the first 45 minutes despite their stellar line up, was the pass that Kevin de Bruyne played through to Lukaku for his first goal. From the left-hand side of the box, the midfielder stroked the ball on to Lukaku's head with the outside of his right boot, giving the Manchester United striker the easiest of finishes.

Watch Mertens's goal


In the first game of the day, the Video Assisted Referee (VAR) system helped Sweden to a 1-0 win over South Korea as it confirmed that a tackle on Viktor Claesson by Kim Minwoo had indeed been worthy of a penalty that Andreas Granqvist scored. However, in the England-Tunisia match, the limitations of the system were shown up. On two occasions, Harry Kane was clearly grappled to the ground by defenders in the penalty box, yet because the incidents were not on the ball they failed to excite the attention of the VAR panel. As the competition moves towards the knockout stages, the teething troubles are going to have be resolved before a serious miscarriage of football justice takes place.


BBC Sport needlessly stoked English hopes by releasing a video imagining that that the national team would win the tournament.


Romelu Lukaku’s account of the bitter poverty he endured during his childhood gives an insight into the incredible sacrifices footballers and their families have to make, and it broke many hearts.