How Atletico full-backs Lucas Hernandez and Sime Vrsaljko have come from nowhere to become World Cup finalists
The club colleagues are sure to come into close contact in Moscow on Sunday with sparks likely to fly
ATLETICO MADRID are now guaranteed the club’s first ever World Cup winner no matter what happens in Sunday’s final in Moscow – with two previously unsung heroes now in place to take that honour.
While nobody is too surprised Antoine Griezmann has been key to France’s progress to the final, just six months ago few would have predicted starring roles at the tournament for either Les Bleus’ left-back Lucas Hernandez or Croatia right-back Sime Vrsaljko.
Jermaine Jenas: England’s World Cup success will inspire a generation, just as Italia ’90 inspired me
The Unibet ambassador lauds Gareth Southgate and looks ahead to the World Cup final between France and Croatia
IT is hard not to be proud of what England have managed to achieve. It has been so long since they managed to go this far in the World Cup. Winning the competition would have been amazing but one of the biggest things to come out of this World Cup, now the dust has settled, is the connection with the supporters.
I don’t think I had realized just how much England fans had fell out of love with the national team. Because we have had so many great players over the years, I always assumed that the fans loved watching England play. But this group of players have achieved something that hasn’t been done since Italia 90, and that is not just getting to a semi-final, but they have inspired the next generation.
Croatia 2-1 England: Wastefulfness cost England, who could have had the game wrapped up by half-time
Southgate’s side seemed to settle on 1-0 worryingly early, not knowing what to do with their early lead
ENGLAND will regret the opportunities they had towards the end of the first half to finish Croatia off. They will feel this was a game they had under control and that they let it slip. But while there is some truth to that, it should also be acknowledged just how extraordinarily resilient Croatia were. This was their third period of extra time in a row. Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Strinic all had to come off. By the end Sime Vrsaljko could barely move. But somehow they dragged themselves back into the game and probably thought they should have had it won in normal time.
The World Cup has given Liverpool’s much-maligned pair Jordan Henderson and Dejan Lovren a clean slate
Having both experienced the dismay of Kiev, both will be even more determined to grasp this chance which may well never come along again
PERHAPS in time we’ll look back at this as the World Cup that football needed, and the shot in the arm for a sport that is too far gone to ever truly rediscover its traditional values, but will still seek them out nonetheless.
We’ve seen the superstars wain – because of a dwindling influence in the case of Cristiano Ronaldo, a lack of resources for Lionel Messi and the addiction to falling over that resides within Neymar – and in their place we’ve seen teams soar.
With flashes of genius and kamikaze bravery, Roberto Martinez is one of the game’s most entertaining coaches
Belgium beating Brazil was a thrilling spectacle for the neutral, a frenzied game that showed both ends of Martinez’s tactical spectrum
IT took about 20 minutes of Belgium’s World Cup quarter-final against Brazil to work out exactly what Roberto Martinez was doing; what formation was being deployed on a wild, blustering night in Kazan.
It took Brazil the best part of 45, by which point the tie was beyond them courtesy of Kevin de Bruyne’s right foot and Fernandinho’s right elbow – a fittingly chaotic, unexpected source for an opener.
Russia 2-2 Croatia: The Croats might just be a team built to expose the weaknesses in the England system
Amidst the hysteria, Southgate and his players must keep their mind on the challenge directly in front of them
WITH just four teams remaining in the World Cup, England are the odd ones out. They are the only country left in the tournament’s semi-finals deemed not to be in the midst of a so-called golden generation.Just like Belgium and France on the other side of the draw, Croatia are burdened with the weight of a crippling expectation. England stand between them and fulfilment.
Sweden 0-2 England: The Three Lions’ growing threat from set-pieces is as good a winning formula as any
No side left in the World Cup will want to concede a corner against this England side as they march into the last four
PERHAPS it wasn’t the greatest game, perhaps it did not thrill the neutral as Belgium’s victory over Brazil had the previous day, but England are hardly in a position to be choosy. And, thanks to three saves from Jordan Pickford, two of them in the category of remarkable, this was a comfortable enough win.
There were moments when they lived on their nerves, but there was always a sense that they had a little more in terms of creativity and perhaps even energy. It is a paradox of Gareth Southgate’s switch to a more patient passing approach, playing the ball out from the back with a back three, that it has somehow ended up accentuating English virtues. No side in this tournament has looked more dangerous from set plays, and it is no coincidence either that the second goal came from a header.
Marcus Rashford and why it pays to be young in a World Cup penalty shootout
AMID all waves of justified Jordan Pickford love and the oceans of respect for Eric Dier’s calmness after that dispiriting substitute appearance, the fact that Marcus Rashford stepped up to take England’s second penalty in the shootout against Colombia went a little under the radar.
Here, in a scenario that has plagued England for generations, the Manchester United forward volunteered himself despite never having taken a penalty for Manchester United’s first XI in his career. The man who always scores on his debuts had no fear of a debut penalty.
England remain the only nation to ever let a teenager take part in a World Cup shootout, when Michael Owen did so against Argentina in 1998. Owen, who is also the only non-adult to take a penalty in the Premier League, scored, and it’s notable that the six youngest England players to take World Cup shootout spot-kicks (Owen, Rashford, David Platt v West Germany in 1990, Eric Dier and Harry Kane v Colombia and Owen Hargreaves v Portugal in 2006) were all successful.
England 1-1 Colombia: Three Lions end penalty woe as Southgate shows he’s lucky as well as impressive
Jordan Pickford and Eric Dier were the heroes but this was a win for the manager’s calm mentality. IT had to happen sometime. Break out the bunting, untap the keg, let tears of glory flow: England, 28 years after they first took part in one, have at last won a World Cup penalty shoot-out, one Jordan from Sunderland bailing out another Jordan from Sunderland, as Pickford saved from Carlos Bacca which, along with Mateus Uribe hitting the bar meant that Henderson’s failure from the spot didn’t matter.
This, perhaps, was a victory for the calm Gareth Southgate has instilled, for the meticulousness of his preparation. All five of England’s penalties, even Henderson’s were very good. The Liverpool captain was denied only by an excellent low save from David Ospina. But once the initial euphoria has subsided, it should be acknowledged that this was a game that should never have gone to penalties. The real issue is how England lost control of a game in which they had seemed untroubled. Henderson and Jesse Lingard lost their cool sufficiently to collect bookings, but otherwise England showed admirable sang-froid in the face of significant provocation.
Brazil vs Mexico: Neymar is starting to find his feet
Guillermo Ochoa will have to once again be superb behind a disrupted backline for the underdogs. Brazil have yet to really explode at this tournament, but they showed signs in their final group stage clash that they were coming to the boil. Mexico wowed in their first two matches but were dreadful against Sweden and will need to raise their level again here.
Jack Lang: Three down, four to go: that’s how Brazil see the balance sheet of their World Cup campaign so far, and while there’s a certain amount of chicken-counting going on, they have good reason to be increasingly confident on the basis of their opening set of games. Were the Seleção consistently thrilling in Group E? No. But they improved with every match, conceding just once and looked to be sharpening their attacking weapons against Serbia.
Belgium vs Japan: In form Hazard makes this an almost impossible task for Kagawa and co
The Red Devils should have too much quality and class for an Asian side here on a technicality. BELGIUM cruised into the last 16 with three victories in the groups stages and head into this knockout tie as big favourites. Japan, on the other hand, got here on fairplay alone and will need to defend resolutely to stand any real chance.
John Chapman: Following the Belgium ‘B’ team’s victory over a similar England outfit, Japan are the next opponents for the Red Devils. Roberto Martinez has generally been praised for topping the group and keeping the momentum going. Ironically, the squad has inherited a harder draw but there appears to be a feeling in the camp that the better team must be beaten sometime.
Croatia 1-1 Denmark: Luka Modric shows balls to add more strength
The Croatian playmaker is one of the best players left in the tournament and his team have a great draw. WITH rivals falling left and right, it all seems to be setting up quite nicely for Croatia and Luka Modric at this World Cup – even if their nerves were totally shredded as they edged past Denmark on penalties in Sunday evening’s last 16 game in Nizhny Novgorod.
Named official man of the match in the victories against both Nigeria and Argentina which got Croatia through as Group D winners – Modric was again the game’s most influential creative performer against Denmark, especially as legs tired and spaces opened in extra time.
France 4-3 Argentina: Mbappe shows he’s ready to be world’s best
Deschamps conservative mindset could cost Les Bleus against better sides later in the competition. Much has been written about how Didier Deschamps does not suit this French side and after this clash, many will see that point as irrelevant. But bear with me.
The South Americans were truly woeful. The tactics were poor, the passing was dreadful and Messi was once again left to plough a lone furrow, in a system that once again didn’t suit him. However, we should also put the French under the microscope. Yes, they won, comfortably in the end, mainly down to their poor, tiring opponents. Argentina were there of the taking in the first half. Yet, after Griezmann’s opening goal from the spot, Les Bleus did very little to kill off the game. No more shots on target and just Paul Pogba’s free-kick that was blazed over the bar.
England 0-1 Belgium: This was always going to be a slightly strange game
Group B round-up: Spain and Portugal have issues as Iran and Morocco bow out gracefully
Group B’s top two exposed and have problems to be addressed as World Cup fans say farewell to two surprise packages
Spain must tighten up at the back – In an unusual turn of events, David de Gea momentarily became the figure of fun on social media on Monday night when making his first save at the World Cup from the fifth shot on target at Spain’s goal.
Memes, GIFs and emojis reigned in, poking fun at the best goalkeeper in the world – but Spain’s defensive woes run much deeper than de Gea’s below-par performances in Russia. Throughout the group stage they’ve looked erratic at the back, with the normally dependable Sergio Ramos at fault for Morocco’s opener, before being outjumped by Youssef En-Nesyri for their second.
#BetAndBreakfast Episode 5 – France v Denmark
In Episode 4 of Bet and Breakfast, Team Drogba secured their biggest win so far thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s stunning hat-trick for Portugal against Spain. Up next, we have the Group C decider, France v Denmark? Can Cisse’s Les Bleus inspire his team?
Group A round-up: Uruguay may fancy their chances of a third World Cup
No goals conceded and five scored – Uruguay have reason to believe; Saudis make up for opening day disaster
Uruguay are contenders – After securing maximum points with five goals scored and none conceded, Uruguay’s stock has just gone up. Having underwhelmed in their opening two games – respective 1-0 wins over Egypt and Saudi Arabia – the South Americans looked much more assured against the hosts, running out 3-0 winners.
It’s the first time the two-time winners have won all three group games at a World Cup, and with Edinson Cavani now off the mark and Luis Suarez grabbing his second in as many games, Uruguay are really hitting their stride just at the right time.
Poland 0-3 Colombia: The South American kings of chaos have arrived in Russia and everyone should be worried
Unibet contributor Graham Ruthven discusses how the Colombians will be the team no one wants to draw if they make it to the knockout stages (And England could end up with that draw if certain results occur!)
IT has now become clear that the defeat suffered by Colombia to Japan in their opening group game was nothing more than a false start for the South Americans. So calamitous was that loss it put Colombia’s continued participation in this tournament on the line. Another defeat like the one inflicted by Japan would have sent them home. Instead, it now looks like their stay in Russia could be a lengthy one
From the very first whistle, the tension in this one was obvious. In essence, it was a knockout game and that was evident in the intensity, and nerves, with which both teams played. That didn’t always result in a great deal of quality between two sides who boast some big talents, but it gave proceedings a certain edge that perhaps hadn’t been seen at this World Cup until now.
England 6-1 Panama: The most impressive thing was how the Three Lions overcame underhand tactics
Unibet Expert Johnathan Wilson analyses England’s momentous win and discusses how the professionalism with which Southgate’s men handled the physicality was as crucial as scoring 6 goals!
THERE are some games that say very little. England were ruthless, of course, and deserve credit for that, as well as for retaining their composure in the face of Panama’s disgraceful first-half approach.
They fully merit their place in the last 16 but really this was a story of how bad Panama were. All the glee that followed the improbable win over Costa Rica that brought qualification, all the stories about their pluck, all that was soured by their attitude. Any team can lose or have a bad day, any team can find itself out-classed, but purely in terms of behaviour have no place at a World Cup.
Belgium 5-2 Tunisia: It’s time Roberto Martinez was given some credit
There may be questions over his tactics but the former Everton manager has a much happier group than that of Euro 2016
ROBERTO Martinez knows what is expected of him. There can’t be many words he has heard more over the past two years than “golden generation.” Belgium have been burdened with the tag for years and the Spaniard has been entrusted with making the most of the country’s undeniable talent. Until now, the pressure appeared overwhelming.
Their comprehensive 5-2 win over Tunisia could prove to be a watershed moment for this group of players, though. This was a demonstration of what this Belgium side can offer, a hint of what they could achieve this summer. There were lapses in their performance, particularly after the scoring of the second goal, but as a whole, this was the display that marked out the Red Devils as genuine contenders at this World Cup.
Belgium vs Tunisia: Patience will be key for Red Devils
Expert John Chapman analyses the other game 2 clash in England’s group – Much will rest on the shoulders of Romelu Lukaku to break the deadlock for the Belgians
“When the World Cup groups were announced, it was assumed that both Belgium and England would advance to the knock-out stages. Nothing seen so far would lead anyone to change their opinion. Belgium started their campaign impressively with a 3-0 victory over Panama. They started slowly but got their game together after the break. Dries Mertens’ spectacular goal gave Belgium the lift-off they required and Romelu Lukaku finished the game off with a brace. The last goal was an example of how good Belgium can look when their game flows.
The sick-bay is now empty, but the memories linger on. Thomas Vermaelen joined the group on the training ground on Tuesday, but he’s not yet match fit. Vincent Kompany kicked a football on Thursday, but he’s not yet been involved with the squad in their training sessions.”
Brazil vs Costa Rica: With Neymar likely to be tightly marked, this could be an opportunity for Gabriel Jesus to shine
Our Unibet analysts the upcoming clash between Brazil and Costa Rica, and evaluate how CR could sit too deep – like they did at points during Serbia – and will face a potential onslaught of attacks from Brazil if so
BRAZIL are under pressure to perform following their disappointing 1-1 draw with Switzerland in their opening fixture, but they might not have it easy against an often-underrated Costa Rica.
Los Ticos suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat to Serbia in their opener, and another here would likely see them eliminated. We’ve asked Brazilian football mogul Jack Lang to preview the Seleção, while Central American football expert Nick Wells puts forward the case for Costa Rica.
The anatomy of new-look England’s opening victory against Tunisia
Stats supremo Duncan Alexander takes us through the Three Lions’ victory step by step
THE record books will show that England opened their 2018 World Cup with a 2-1 victory, the first time the Three Lions had scored more than once in the competition since Joe Cole and friends dealt with Sweden in 2006, via the last twitch of spontaneity from the Golden Generation. What the sports almanacs won’t demonstrate is just how the game against Tunisia ebbed and flowed. From an opening that left England fans like purring like cats to a second half where the team seemed to roll back their operating system to one from the 21st century’s first decade, the England players weighed down by hubris and ennui as their opponents employed muscular arts to frustrate their gilded opponents. Harry Kane’s late winner doesn’t change the past but it does the change the narrative. This is the breakdown of the game.
Belgium 3-0 Panama: Lukaku shows his class, while England can learn plenty from lacklustre Belgians
Unibet Specialists discuss Lukaku & Belgium’s flying start and how England can learn plenty from the lacklustre Belgians
The striker took his chances well but Axel Witsel’s presence continues to baffle – With Lukaku, Belgium will always have a chance. The Manchester United striker was not good here. He struggled to get into the game and cut a frustrated figure before he grabbed his goal. In fact, in the first period he touched the ball just seven times, half the amount of any other player on the pitch.
The former Anderlecht man is often derided for his inability to do it on the biggest stage, but he has been involved in 13 of Belgium’s last 19 goals and has now scored at four major tournaments, not to mention he is his country’s all-time top scorer. Not bad for a 25-year old.
Tunisia vs England – The best value lies in assuming Tunisia will frustrate England before caving in
Our Football Specialists discuss England’s first game in depth and how the onus will then be on England players in the creative roles at the front of midfield to break Tunisia down
ENGLAND kick their World Cup campaign off with what would seem a relatively straight-forward opponent in Tunisia. The African side will have other ideas though as they bid to build on Sunday’s shocks – Mexico beating Germany and Switzerland holding Brazil.
There is a strange atmosphere around England heading into this World Cup. There has been no panic about the fitness of a key player, no hasty reshuffling of tactics after a couple of iffy friendly performances. Rather there is a sense of reasonableness and calm, in part rooted in a run of 10 games without defeat – some of them friendlies against big sides – and in part in the personality of the coach, Gareth Southgate.
#BetAndBreakfast Episode 4
Part 1 - #WorldCup
Part 2 - Julen Lopetegui sacked!
Part 3 - Plans for Portugal v Spain
Part 4 - Portugal 3-3 Spain: Results
Belgium vs Panama: One of the stiffest tests for Los Canaleros
With the other members of England’s group squaring off a few hours before England, we discuss how the star-studded Belgians will likely have too much firepower and pace from the bench, but we think Panama can frustrate them
ENGLAND fans will get a chance to keep tabs on their future opponents at the World Cup as the much-fancied Belgium take on the relatively unknown in Panama on Monday.
Belgium go into the World Cup on a high as they finished their warm-up with a 4-0 defeat of Costa Rica. In that game, the team gave a superb attacking display with Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku the pick of the bunch. There were warning signs though with the odd signs of weakness in defence, especially on the left side.
Portugal 3-3 Spain: Ronaldo finally makes his mark
Arguably the game of the tournament so far, our analysts examine Ronaldo and his ever-growing legacy as the Real Madrid man steals the show again with an incredible hat-trick
Costa’s face doesn’t fit but he’s Spain’s curveball – He didn’t quite fit the Spanish model a couple of years ago, and to be quite honest he doesn’t really fit now. Diego Costa slows the game down. Spain’s sharp passing would be much more suited to a striker who gets in behind, one who can run the channels, lay it off and go through a defence on his own. Costa is not that type of player.
However, that is why, in many ways, he is the perfect fit for this Spanish squad in a tournament situation. The problem for La Roja, for so long, has been that they create a whole host of chances but never quite finish them off. Costa counteracts that. He is a finisher, he earns his chances with his devious tactics.
Tunisia World Cup Team Preview: Kane and Lukaku can take advantage
Our Unibet contributors take a closer look at one of England’s group opponents, Tunisia, and discuss their potential to compete with the big boys of the group
It could be lights out by the time Tunisia face Panama, but they are capable of competing with the big boys when they show up
Team strengths – Tunisian coach Nabil Maaloul has turned this Tunisia team into a very solid unit, capable of grinding out results, as they did in the 0-0 draw with Libya that confirmed World Cup qualification, as well as displaying the attacking flair that saw them memorably win 4-1 away to Guinea on the way to securing a place in Russia.
Panama World Cup Team Guide: The oldest team at the World Cup are here to learn
Our Unibet contributors take a closer look at one of England’s group opponents, Panama, and discuss the rise of Panamanian football and the importance of learning, to ensure it continues.
WHEN Roman Torres scored the eventual game-winning goal for Panama in their World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica, the Seattle Sounders defender was reaching a status in the Panamanian sports pantheon reserved for people like Roberto Durán and even Mariano Rivera.
Panama are embarking on a journey that very few countries have been on. In this World Cup, like Iceland, they will be debutants. In this tournament, they will begin to shed certain labels. Panama are no longer looking at the expectations of the past. They now have to understand that qualifying for a World Cup has them on a completely different ride.
#BetAndBreakfast Episode 3
Minisode - Stats & Stories
Minisode - Extend Your Game
Minisode - Betting Psychology
England World Cup Team Guide: Assertive Southgate has made Three Lions a pacy force
The quarters may be as far as they can go but the positivity around the young team is clear. England are approaching this World Cup with an unusual sense of calm.
In part, that’s because of a lack of expectation: this is the youngest squad they’ve ever taken to a World Cup and a glance at the calibre of player major nations are leaving out – Leroy Sane, Mauro Icardi, Cesc Fabregas, Karim Benzema… – suggests just where they stand. But it’s also because of Gareth Southgate’s approach. Having taken over from Sam Allardyce after one game in qualifying – and with that, the away match in Slovakia which always looked the most testing fixture, won – he got England to Russia with the minimum of fuss, since when he has got on with imposing his vision of a side playing patient football with a back three.
Facebook Chatbot for Unibet UK during the World Cup!
We are excited to announce that Kindred Futures, Kindred Group’s innovation arm, is partnering with Artificial Solutions to Launch a Facebook Chatbot for the World Cup!
Launched on the Unibet UK Facebook page, the conversational-based interface allows customers to do more; from finding odds and placing bets, to asking about fixtures and getting help with over 100 FAQs. Users are also able to connect to a Customer Service agent to escalate issues and questions. To create real value for customers, build new behaviours and drive retention, it is not enough to just support one or two use cases. If you can ask for the odds on a match, why not ask when it is, what the bet rules are, and potentially receive relevant news about the game?
England vs Costa Rica: Jonathan Wilson’s tactical preview
As we move closer towards England’s final game before the World Cup, Unibet contributor Jonathan Wilson examines the likely tactics, discussing the question of whether Southgate goes for Kane or a deeper-lying player alongside Vardy
It’s clear now that Southgate will go into the World Cup with a back three, but there remains a doubt over the shape of the midfield. It had initially appeared he would favour a 3-4-2-1 but recently he has preferred a 3-3-2-2. It may be that come the tournament itself, he uses the two-striker system against opponents who sit deep, and the 3-4-2-1 against more proactive sides when the additional holding midfielder is of more value. Costa Rica will sit deep – which may make it harder for Vardy to exploit his pace – but then Vardy is probably better-served by another forward alongside him.
#BetAndBreakfast Episode 2
Minisode - Betting Psychology
Minisode - Stats And Stories
Minisode - Extend Your Game
Minisode - Learnings
World Cup One To Watch: Roman Torres – Panama’s source of power and stability in central defence
One of England’s three group-stage opponents in this years’ World Cup are Panama, and Unibet contributor, Juan Arango has taken a look at Roman Torres, a key player from the team.
“The Seattle Sounders defender has the build and strength of a rugby hooker but also the attacking prowess of a number nine. Most likely to score a goal off a set piece, if Panama are not able to create chances offensively, he might end up being the team’s best defender as well as biggest threat on offence.”
#BetAndBreakfast Episode 1
Minisode - Betting Psychology
Minisode - Stats And Stories
Minisode - Extend Your Game
Minisode - Learnings
Is it time for England to worry about the new ‘chippy’ Harry Kane ahead of the World Cup?
England’s World cup hopes seem to hinge on Harry Kane having an excellent tournament. Unibet Blog contributor “John Brewin” has written an article discussing the new Harry Kane and how it is likely to affect England’s chances:
“Is he at his best? The ankle injury which halted his pursuit of Salah is a concern, as a recurrence of a previous problem, and until Sunday’s brace against Leicester, he had not quite looked himself. He may have reached 30 goals but what does that now leave in the tank?”