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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

World Cup talking points, Day 11: Dirty Harry, wild weekend and group therapy

All the things that are hogging the conversation after the latest day of action in Russia 2018

Harry Kane's hat-trick took him one goal behind Gary Lineker as top England scorer at a single World Cup. Reuters
Harry Kane's hat-trick took him one goal behind Gary Lineker as top England scorer at a single World Cup. Reuters

Dirty Harry

No, not as in foul play, more a reference to Harry Kane’s resemblance to the dead-eyed cop Harry Callahan, as played by Clint Eastwood, another renowned hot-shot who never missed a target. With all the second-round games complete, the England captain tops the goalscoring charts for Russia 2018 with five goals, one ahead of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku of Belgium. His hat-trick against Panama was only the third scored by England at the World Cup finals (joining the illustrious company of Geoff Hurst and Gary Lineker), and he has scored from every single shot on target this tournament. Kane also passed 50 goals for the season with Spurs and England, and is closing in on Lineker as the highest England scorer in a World Cup (six goals at Mexico 86).

Eden Hazard, left, and Romelu Lukaku's four goals on Saturday helped to revive the tournament's sluggish goals per game average. EPA/PETER POWELL
Eden Hazard, centre, and Romelu Lukaku scored a total of four goals between them on Saturday helped to revive the tournament's sluggish goals-per-game average. EPA

Wild weekend

After a relatively sluggish start, the World Cup finally sparked into life over the weekend as 27 goals were scored across the six games played: 13 on Saturday and 14 on Sunday. Before this burst of activity, 58 goals had been scored at a rate of 2.23 a game. Following the mayhem of the past two days, this now stands at a far more respectable 2.65, boosting the average to figure closer to Brazil 2014’s 2.7.

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The 14 goals scored on Sunday ties with the previous highest return for a three-game day in 1990 and is only bettered by the 18 goals returned on June 15, 1982 – which was inflated by Hungary’s 10-1 victory over El Salvador and Scotland’s 5-2 trouncing of New Zealand.

Group therapy

After a thoroughly enjoyable first two rounds of the group stages, strewn with upsets, only a couple of groups have two sides guaranteed to go through: groups A (Russia and Uruguay) and G (England and Belgium). Both of these will see intriguing winner-takes-all games between the two qualifiers where game theory about the best possible next opponents to the winner and the runner-up will come into play. France (C), Croatia (D) and Mexico (F) have assured passage from their groups with two victories. The remaining trio – B, E and H – will see three teams go into the final games with the possibility of qualification. Argentina, sitting bottom of group D, remain the likeliest of the big beasts to go out, although Spain, Portugal and Germany could also crash out. Game on.

VAR-watch

The England game was a very instructive lesson in what the new technology is doing correctly in how it is changing referees’ inherent conservatism and desire not to be seen to be too busy. Although Egyptian referee Gehad Grisha missed a blatant elbow to the face of Jesse Lingard within the first two minutes – and wasn’t alerted to it by the dozy VAR team in Moscow – for the rest of the game, he officiated like a man who knew that all his decisions were under acute scrutiny. The two penalties given were bolted on, and we will never know if he would have given one for the WWE-style wrestling in the box before John Stones’ opener rendered that decision moot. If VAR will allow teams who have come to play football to overcome thuggish opponents hellbent on kicking them out of the game, then it can only be a good thing.

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