World Cup 2018 Day 5 winners and losers: New-look England in more ways than one

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It was one of those games that turns proper nouns into verbs. Ninety minutes had come and gone in Volgograd on Monday, and England, in its 2018 World Cup opener, a game that was supposed to mark the dawn of a new era, was … well, there was only one way to succinctly describe it.

England was Englanding.

It was seemingly playing down to inferior opposition, stuttering at the smallest hint of adversity, sputtering as it tried to unlock a sturdy defense. It had flubbed chances in the first half, and failed to create many in the second. It was headed for a result – a 1-1 draw with one of the worst teams in Russia – that would have brought all the old criticism, jokes and schadenfreude flooding back.

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And then something strange happened:

Suddenly, the past was irrelevant. That verb, “to England,” had been redefined. Prophecies and promises that this year will be different came true.

Which, of course, is a tad silly. One somewhat fluky set-piece goal shouldn’t flip the narrative of a game, just as one game shouldn’t flip the narrative of a team. But here’s the thing: The original narrative was going to miss the mark. Never once during the 90 minutes did this look like “same old England.” Whether the match ended 2-1 or 1-1 or 1-2, this England performancewas different. It was refreshing. It was encouraging.

At the very least, it certainly warranted three points. As the match-winner, Harry Kane, said afterward, it was “no less than we deserved.”

The “same old England” tag had come to carry multiple meanings. At one point, it equated to a decent performance overshadowed by a poor result. At recent major tournaments, though, including Euro 2016, it was used to describe a poor result brought about by a poor performance. It did not tell of missed chances, but rather a failure to even create them.

That’s why Monday really was different. It was a vast improvement on the Euros and the 2014 World Cup. England easily could have been 3-0 up in the first half.

Had the match finished 1-1, the story would have been missed chances. England’s finishing would have led this column as a Day 5 loser. Instead, thanks to Harry Kane’s winner, we have a clear path to the narrative that England’s performance merited.

Winner: New-look England

We had heard all about England’s exciting next generation in the buildup to Russia. We knew about Kane and Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli, and so on. We knew about John Stones and the Three Lions’ determination to play out of the back. We knew about manager Gareth Southgate’s 3-5-2, and his defined system that strayed from England’s incoherence of the past. We had been told about a squad overflowing with energy and personality.

Harry Kane celebrates his winning goal for England against Tunisia at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)
Harry Kane celebrates his winning goal for England against Tunisia at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

What we hadn’t seen was all of this in practice. We especially hadn’t seen it in practice against a team like Tunisia – against a clearly overmatched adversary, one that would dare England to break it down.

But England did just that. Its 3-plus Expected Goals were the most of any team at the tournament so far. It is still only one game, with tougher challenges to come. Southgate’s side is by no means suddenly a World Cup favorite. But Monday’s performance, despite a result that many will characterize as an escape, was very promising.

Winner: Penalty-box body slams

Apparently legal! At least if you’re Tunisian …

England had two convincing penalty shouts ignored, while Tunisia had a questionable penalty given at the other end. Had the score held at 1-1, notorious Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan might have had a place among the “losers” here. Instead …

Loser: Tunisians marking Harry Kane without body slamming him

Kane has a knack for floating into space to get on the end of second balls. But he tapped in a rebound for England’s first goal while in acres of space. And, well, watch Tunisian defender Yassine Meriah (4) and substitute Mohamed Ben Amor (14) at the back post on the winner:

Loser: Roy Hodgson

Given what we saw Monday, let’s recall this photo of Kane at Euro 2016 …

Harry Kane took corners for England at Euro 2016. (Getty)
Harry Kane took corners for England at Euro 2016. (Getty)

What’s wrong with that picture? [Thinking emoji]

Ah, yes. Remember the (not so) good old days when Kane was taking corners for England?

Have to wonder what former England manager Roy Hodgson was thinking while he watched Kane’s predatory instincts win a game for the Three Lions at the World Cup.

Winner: Belgium hype

In Group G’s other match, Belgium sped past Panama, 3-0. In many ways, its performance actually wasn’t quite as impressive as England’s.

But the result, superficially at least, gave the best first impression of any pre-tournament favorite. The Red Devils were the only of the near-consensus top six that triumphed by multiple goals. So prepare for the Belgium hype – which was already significant before the World Cup, and with good reason – to ratchet up even more.

Winner: Sweden

Sweden is a winner because … uh … it won a game! It topped South Korea 1-0 on a VAR-awarded penalty. But …

Loser: Anybody who watched Sweden-South Korea

We – viewers – were all winners on Friday. We were all losers if we spent two hours of our Monday mornings watching Sweden and South Korea try to lull us back to sleep. But hey, don’t claim you weren’t warned.

Loser: Sweden’s goal differential

Sweden had to win. And it did. But only getting the solitary goal against what is clearly Group F‘s worst team could prove costly. Because if Mexico beats South Korea by any score other than 1-0, or if Germany’s presumed victory over Sweden is by more than one goal, the Swedes will go into Matchday 3 needing a Germany stumble against South Korea and/or a multi-goal victory of their own over Mexico. The former is unlikely. And the latter?

Well, Sweden hasn’t scored multiple goals in a match since a qualifier against Luxembourg in early October.

Winner: Panama

Panama didn’t get a result. Its fans didn’t get to celebrate. But Panamanians everywhere got to link arms and belt out their national anthem before a World Cup match for the first time.

So they’re all winners. What a special moment. Players and fans will cherish this experience, no matter how the final two games turn out, for the rest of their lives.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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