The Group Stage
Vs Saudi Arabia.
The opening fixture for our campaign saw us take on Saudi Arabia in the Kazan Arena, Kazan in front of a crowd of 45,000 spectators. The media had us down to win this with ease. To be fair we had ourselves down to win this with ease.
We looked to put out a statement of intent by putting out a relatively strong line-up. One that would see me play John Stones as the Libero. With Cahill and Mags (Harry Maguire) as the defensive pairing supported with Walker and Rose in the WB positions, Alli and Hendo in central midfield. With Kane leading the line ahead of widemen Rashford and Sterling.
The match got off to a stuttering start. We saw Raheem Sterling stretchered off after only seven minutes. The boy went down like a sack of spuds after chasing a loose ball on the right wing. Jesse was looking very spritely during the warm-up so we threw him on as a like for like replacement for Raheem.
We slowly took control of the rhythm of the game with our short passing and aim to exploit the gaps in the oppositions armoury. Although, our first goal came due to a poor corner from Jordan Henderson not being cleared properly by the Saudi’s. Dele Alli hit a sweet strike towards goal for it to come off Harry Maguire’s backside and Harry Kane was on hand to tuck the ball in to the back of the net.
We finished the first half one nil up, the dressing room was a tense one, whereby I took it upon myself to try and lift the mood of the boys.
The second half saw us continue to press the Saudi’s deep in their own half. We eventually got the second breakthrough due to a foul in their box by Awaji on Kane. With the resulting penalty Harry Kane stroked the ball into the goal sending the goalkeeper the wrong way. We ended up winning the game by 2-0 although I can’t help thinking we could have been bolder in our approach and knocked them off the park for more.
The second game of the group saw us pit our wits against keep ball experts Spain. For this match I decided to go with the side that won the previous game. The notable change to the starting line up was Jesse Lingard playing on the Right Wing instead of the injured Raheem Sterling. Who was injured with a sore ankle after tripping over his laces in the previous match.
We got off to an exceptional start with Jesse Lingard scoring after 12 minutes. A cheeky near post toe punt from 5 yards out, squirmed past David De Gea’s left hand and in to the back of the net.
The game was an tactical battle of the brave, where if we countered a Spanish attack with a quick break we would then find a lack in quality in the final third to be our down fall. However, Spain were suffering from the same levels of impotency in front of goal.
That was until the 64th minute when Nacho scored from a 1 yard tap in. The tap in came about due to a deep corner that was met by a very aggressive Sergio Ramos. Who headed the ball goalward beyond the flapping Pickford, and in turn reaching an unmarked Nacho who had found space due to our defence holding hands with each other rather than marking the opposition.
The match ended 1-1. In what was a very tight and close encounter.
Our final match in group saw us up against Algeria. We made a large number of changes to the previous fixtures due to player fatigue. We saw starts for Terance Trent Darby (TAA), Jack Wilshere, Leon Bailey, Jamie Vardy and Harry Winks as the Libero replacing John Stones.
The match got off to a assured start for Algeria. Who looked like they wanted to play a keep ball type of game. The problem with that was once they lost possession we were the team with the ball.
A deep freekick sent in to the Algerian 18 yard box by Henderson saw Leon Bailey pick up the poor clearance by Algeria for us to find the breakthrough goal after 18 minutes.
With our confidence high in the second half we looked to kill the game off by scoring a second after 57 minutes. With substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scoring a great team goal. That saw the ball being held up by Reg on the halfway line waiting for support. Jack Wilshere then played a wonderful through ball wide for Rashford to dribble to the left by-line and cross the ball across the goal mouth. For the Ox to score!
Algeria then claw a goal back courtesy of a clever long ball between the defence and the goalkeeper that is then lobbed over the head of the advancing Pickford by Belfodil.
For Reg to score minutes later from a screaming shot from 20 yards out. The space is created by some quick passing from TAA and then the Ox who tees up Reg with a cushioned passed that is very well executed to restore our two goal lead.
With two victories and a draw we ended up winning the group. Spain finished second due to winning against Algeria, and then drawing against ourselves and Saudi Arabia.
We were then given USA for our second round opponents. Due to USA coming second in Group G behind Germany but ahead of Wales and Morocco.