It is finally the last matchday of the Group Stage, which means the World Cup will have to bid farewell to half of the teams. And congratulations to the other half. Your journeys for glory continue.
Group B, with the appearance of reigning Euro runner-up England and up-and-coming USMNT, alongside gritty Wales and Iran, was a great one to watch. All teams were neck-and-neck, which showed in the results. Coming into the final fixture, England topped the group, with four points, Iran second, with three points, and USA and Wales shared the last spots, with two and one points, respectively.
England blew out Wales
The golden generation for Wales is coming to an end. Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale are both on the wrong side of the hill, while the younger generations still need to produce matching talents. The potential last dance of Wales against England didn’t seem even, form-wise. Wales was dreadful against Iran, while England played decently in both games.
Gareth Southgate has received backlash from the English media outlet for poor man-management in the draw against the USA. In this game, he switched things up, playing Rashford and Foden from the start instead of Sterling and Saka. The Three Lions played proactively from the beginning. Had Rashford and Foden been more composed, they would have been up at the half. Gareth Bale had seven touches in the entire half. Wales couldn’t do anything.
Although Wales narrowly escaped conceding in the first period, the second was different. Marcus Rashford made amends for the lousy miss in the first half with a fantastic freekick five minutes in. That was the first direct freekick score of this World Cup. Then, under 60 seconds later, captain Harry Kane low-crossed the ball for Foden to make it two. With a safe lead in hand, Southgate made massive personnel changes. One of those adjustments, Kalvin Phillips, ping the ball on the dot to Marcus Rashford, who, with a couple of “dance moves,” eliminated two defenders to complete his brace.
A three-star finish for The Three Lions got them three points to top the group. They will face Aliou Cisse’s Senegal in the World Cup last 16.
USA, USA, USA!
The match against Iran is a highly-anticipated one for the USMNT avid. Despite playing phenomenally in the first two fixtures, the USA only came up with two points, which means they need a win against a direct opponent, Iran, to ensure a place in the next round.
Iran started the game conservatively, knowing a draw was enough for them to advance. But their low block left many holes for the US attackers to take advantage of. Gregg Berhalter utilizes Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson’s explosiveness to attack Iran’s weakness on the wing. Pulisic, Weah, and Sargeant diversified the plays, wreaking havoc on the defensive line. Their efforts paid off in the 37th minute Sergino Dest found Christian Pulisic to open the scoreline. Captain America Pulisic put his body on the line for that one, sustaining an injury that would keep him out of the second half. The substitution has later confirmed as a precaution only.
In the second half, Gregg Berhalter directed the players to play slower and wait for counter-attacking opportunities. Tim Weah was a crucial part of the plan. However, the 22-year-old was having an off day. His touches and decision-making left the fans baffling at times. Iran kept putting pressure on the USA’s defense, but the extraordinary Tim Ream and company diffused everything. Drama arose in stoppage time. Mehdi Taremi fell inside the box at the last minute of the game. The hearts of the USMNT faithful stopped for a while. But after further checking, no penalty was given. And the USA becomes the fourth team to advance to the Sweet 16 of the World Cup!
A great tournament from Iran. But it was the USA in the crucial moments to take home the victory.
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