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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

World Cup talking points, Day 6: Poles axed, tarnished gold and where are the goals?

All the events that are getting the world discussing after the latest day of action in Russia 2018

Senegal's M'Baye Niang goes past Poland's goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny on his way to scoring the decisive goal in the clash between the two teams. Christian Hartmann / Reuters
Senegal's M'Baye Niang goes past Poland's goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny on his way to scoring the decisive goal in the clash between the two teams. Christian Hartmann / Reuters

Sneaky Senegal goal axes Poles

The Lions of Teranga made a lot of friends with their victory over Poland, becoming the first African team to record a victory at the tournament in the last game of the first round of the group stages. However, Poland can feel understandably hard done by about Senegal’s second goal, which saw M’Baye Niang – who had been off the pitch injured – run back on and intercept an appalling back pass in the Polish half. He then evaded the keeper Wojciech Szczesny, who had hurtled out of his box, and slotted home into an empty goal, with the Poles complaining furiously to the Bahraini referee Nawaf Shukralla. No VAR was called for, which adds to the black marks against the use of the new technology.

Weight of expectation

Poland were one of the many teams coming into this tournament with the tag "Golden Generation" bestowed on their latest crop of talent. By our reckoning, there are at least five other teams in Russia who have been granted this distinctly unhelpful description: Croatia, Belgium, Mexico, Germany and France. Currently, two lost their first game and none of the winners, save the excellent Mexicans, have exactly flattered with their performances.

Mexico are the only 'Golden Generation' to have flattered with their performances in the first round of the World Cup. Matthias Hangst / Getty Images
Mexico are the only 'Golden Generation' to have flattered with their performances in the first round of the World Cup. Matthias Hangst / Getty Images

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Read more:

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

Rampant Russia too strong for Egypt as 2018 World Cup knockout stage beckons

Senegal topple toothless Poland as underdogs seize control of World Cup Group H

Japan's Samurai Blue defeat 10-man Colombia 2-1 to claim historic World Cup win

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Game theory

We’re only one game down in Group G, but already the conspiracy theorists are looking to the showdown between England and Belgium on June 28 and questioning what the two teams will be looking for from the match. If things go as planned, and the pair win their second games against Panama and Tunisia, then the fixture will be to see who tops the group. While the second round sees relatively easier possible fixtures against the teams that top group H (Japan, Senegal, Colombia and Poland), in the quarter-finals there will be the chance to avoid Brazil or Germany from groups E and F. Given that these two teams have lost and drawn their first games, it’s no guarantee they will qualify top from their groups, meaning that coming second in group G will see the team take on a "lesser" opponent. These groups finish the day before the England game kicks off which means the teams will know exactly what their route through the competition will be – could we see the bizarre prospect of both sides wanting to lose?

Referee Damir Skomina from Slovenia shows a red card to Colombia's Carlos Sanchez Moreno, on the ground, during their defeat to Japan on Wednesday. Vadim Ghirda / AP Photo
Referee Damir Skomina from Slovenia shows a red card to Colombia's Carlos Sanchez Moreno, on the ground, during their defeat to Japan on Wednesday. Vadim Ghirda / AP Photo

Where are the goals?

With all the first round of the group stage matches played, we can see that it’s been a particularly goal-shy tournament to date. In Brazil in 2014, 49 goals were scored in the first 16 games, a rate of just more than three a game. So far, Russia 2018 is muddling along at 2.25 goals per match, not including the home nation’s win over Egypt on Tuesday – which if it continued could bring the tournament close to the lowest-ever mark for a World Cup, set at Italia 1990, of 2.21. One pleasing statistic is that this has been the cleanest first round since 1970, with only one red card being showed – to Carlos Sanchez Moreno of Colombia after just three minutes of their clash with Japan on Tuesday.

Read this

A wonderfully forensic breakdown of England’s ill-fated campaign in 1998.

Watch this

Senegalese fans could have left the stadium on cloud nine after their shock defeat of Poland, but some stayed behind to clean up where they had been sitting.