Good results in the World Cup continue with followers of the blog going 3-1 this week. This write-up is being published prior to the Mexico match on Saturday. My overall record for the tournament is 5-3 (+3.12x) with a 1.33x stake on the North American side to beat Korea pending.
In my World Cup preview, I wrote about England having a chance to go deep due to the solid mix of attacking talent and lack of ego’s driving the team. Living in Canada, there is no shortage of coverage on England, but, this year the narrative is different. The coverage is an equal mix of uncertainty and optimism instead of the usual, “how are they going to screw this up?”
Networks and pundits desperately tried to spin the Tunisia match into the old narrative. I am unsure why there is a need in the media to bash this team down regardless of outcome?
There is no question that the match was won in dramatic fashion, but, lets not ignore what occurred prior to stoppage time in the second half.
England generated 2.5 expected goals in the first half alone, and 3.5 for the entire game. That is the highest number of any team this tournament. Whether it be the missed penalty call or the numerous deflected misses or straight whiffs of the ball in the area, it is not a stretch to say England could have put up 4 or 5 goals against Tunisia.
The England attack was furious. I saw attempts from all angles and an equal balance of speed up the left and right wings. The way they set up opportunities inside the box were great too. I lost track of how many players got a touch in the box near to the net. A combination of speed and creativity and within the blink of an eye on numerous occasions there were two or three English attackers behind the back line in tight on the keeper threatening. It was great football to watch.
The way that England played against Tunisia is a perfect blueprint to run up the score on Panama. It is no secret, the Central American representatives are bad – really bad. But, I am unsure if it is a mix of age (oldest team in the tournament) and lack of experience (first appearance in country history) or if it was poor game planning and fear that led the team to look drastically different against Belgium than normal.
I have watched a number of Panama matches, and while they are always boom or bust, a constant with them is a super physical defensive press.
While they held true to the physical side – to an extent – (18 fouls and 5 yellow cards), the press was non-existent. I had to go back and watch the highlights to believe it. The Panamanian back four let Belgium walk in on them and do what they wish time and time again.
The Panamanian defence was specifically suspect to the change of direction in attack, something England did very well their opening match. Quick bursts of speed from wing in towards centre by Belgium wingers caused both centrebacks to bite instantly and left the opposite side winger cutting in wide open. This simple move led to almost a half dozen scoring chances during the match.
Another weakness of the Panama back line was their ability to mark attackers in the air. There is a clear gap in skill and speed, as anytime Belgian attackers set picks to free up space, it more often than not led to an unmarked man breaking free for the ball. If not for captain Torres playing extremely well, Belgium could have put a couple more into the back of the net.
It is difficult to use a win against Panama as a statement match, but this match is an opportunity for England to change the narrative. They can force Panama back, and play over the top to generate as many scoring opportunities as they wish. I think it is very reasonable to see 3-4 expected goals again and I believe the finishing of chances will be more successful against a much less talented Panama side.
As was the case with Brazil on Friday, once the first goal goes in, the cheap goal potential increases dramatically. This is where the upside lies.
Panama can’t play attacking football without exposing themselves on the backline. The team is filled with old veterans and there is a lot of pride. Although it is an impossible task to get out of this group, this is not a team that will fold and concede defeat. With a loss sending Panama home, after England gets the first goal, the flood gates will open.
A weird mix of market doubt, uncertainty and recency bias has left the price for the -1.5 handicap at 1.83, and that is far to good for me to pass up. This match gets out of hand and England wins comfortably by 2+ goals.
- England -1.5 1.83 (risking 2x)