While it’s fair to say that Qatar’s World Cup bow didn’t go to plan, it could have been a whole lot worse. But for the tightest of offside calls they could have been 2-0 down inside ten minutes and after a very wobbly start, they gradually gathered themselves and slowly grew into the game.
They never looked like threatening an Ecuador side that didn’t need to get anywhere near top gear to see them off, and the game was as good as over at half-time. You do worry about the hosts with the Netherlands and Senegal to come, particularly if other results dictate that one or both are going to be chasing goals to boost their goal difference.
My score prediction of 1-1 was pretty much dead in the water after a few minutes but at least I got the number of goals right – and Ecuador did win the corner count, just as I predicted, so that was pleasing to see, although that was their lowest corner tally (three) in six matches. They’ve now kept a national record seven consecutive clean sheets so they’ll be considerably harder to break down than Qatar in the games to come.
Onto today, then, and with three games to look forward to including England’s opener against Iran. Manager Gareth Southgate has played down his side’s poor form (D3, L3), as he has to, but you feel they need to get a win under their belts to boost their confidence after that dreadful Nations League campaign which ended in relegation.
An early goal or two would settle the nerves as they haven’t scored before half-time since beating Ivory Coast in a friendly in March. Iran will probably feel an early goal could help them too as they’ve only scored once before the break in their last five matches, making it highly likely that the second half will be the period with most action.
Score prediction: England 3-0 Iran.
Watch out for: Most goals in second half
The rankings suggest that the Wales v USA game could be pivotal in deciding who else qualifies from this group – blithely assuming England will win the group – but with Wales on a five-match winless streak (D1, L4), their first World Cup appearance since 1958 will see them start as outsiders. Having not scored first in any of those five games, a bad start could spell danger for Rob Page’s side, whose UNL campaign was even worse than England’s (D1, L5).
Score prediction: Wales 1-1 USA.
Watch out for: The side scoring first not losing
Senegal v Netherlands pits the reigning champions of Africa against the three-time World Cup runners-up and the team that beat Belgium to the top of their UNL group. It’s the first real heavyweight clash of the tournament but Senegal are vulnerable, particularly away from home and the loss of Sadio Mane is a huge blow.
Recent defeats to Liberia and Guinea will have dampened morale a little as they prepare to take on a Dutch side that hasn’t lost since the European Championship knockouts (W11, D4). With six of the Netherlands’ last eight games seeing both teams score though, they might not have things their own way.
Score prediction: Senegal 1-2 Netherlands.
Watch out for: Both teams scoring