Harry Kane’s hat-trick against hapless Panama was one of the eye-catching performances of an eventful second round of World Cup finals fixtures, with a number of countries now out of the running to qualify for the final 16.
Poland were the biggest casualties of those who cannot now make the knockout phase, a 3-0 defeat to on-song Colombia resurrecting the South Americans’ hopes.
Hosts Russia impressed in defeating Egypt 3-1 – for whom Mo Salah netted – but they bowed out along with Saudi Arabia, defeated 1-0 by Uruguay who are slowly warming into the tournament, with Luis Suarez scoring on his 100th appearance for his country.
As expected in Group B, Spain and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal were victorious, although the manner of their 1-0 victories over Iran and Morocco respectively offered few hints that both could seriously challenge for the World Cup.
Group C saw France confirm a last 16 spot thanks to Kylian Mbappe’s strike against Peru who bowed out with their heads held high. The forward, in scoring, also became the first teenager to score for the French in a major finals in the process.
Australia look in pole position to qualify from the same group, with disappointing Denmark having to defeat France in their final fixture after the sides drew 1-1. The Socceroos will fancy their chances of beating Peru to overhaul the Danes.
Argentina and Lionel Messi, embarrassed 3-0 by Croatia, were thrown a lifeline when Nigeria defeated Iceland in Group D. It means a win over the Super Eagles would be enough although, on current form, that’s nowhere near a ‘gimme’.
Neymar was on target as Brazil needed two late goals to see off brave Costa Rica, while a dramatic late Xherdan Shaqiri strike saw Switzerland beat Serbia 2-1 – the latter need to now shock the World Cup favourites in their final game if they are to stay in the competition.
Another memorable moment was delivered by Germany and Toni Kroos, who looked down and out at half-time against Sweden. Ola Toivonen had opened the scoring in the first half, which would have meant the end for the holders. Despite levelling through Marco Reus, they knew they needed a win to keep their fate in their own hands – and Jerome Boateng’s 82nd minute dismissal for a second yellow card offence made that task tougher. But in the fifth minute of stoppage time Kroos’ well-worked effort from an indirect free-kick delivered the final blow to a Sweden side who rarely looked like taking advantage of the extra man.
Javier Hernandez’s 50th international goal helped Mexico defeat South Korea 2-1 although conceivably all teams could still qualify from that group despite the Asian nation being without a point.
The deal has all but been closed in Group G though, with Belgium easing past Tunisia 5-2 – Eden Hazard (2) and Romelu Lukaku (2) both on song – and then England’s major finals record 6-1 defeat of Panama (met with particular enthusiasm from fans and media alike) ensuring their upcoming group game will be about who finishes 1st and 2nd. With Poland out, they will meet either Japan, Senegal or Colombia from Group H, with the latter looking most impressive on current form…