Half-time: Belgium 0-0 Panama
Peep! Janny Sikazwe signals for the break and Panama go in having kept Belgium scoreless. Belgium have been very lethargic and sluggish; a team of great players and no apparent plan. If Panama could somehow nick a goal, it’s not difficult to imagine this Belgium team having an England-v-Iceland type meltdown.
45+2 min: Panama midfielder Edgar Barcanes is booked for a foul on Axel Witsel.
45+1 min: Romelu Lukaku is doing that Wayne Rooney thing of coming deep to try and win the ball, so starved is he of service up front on his own. He’s cut a very forlorn figure in this first half.
45 min: We’ll have two minutes of added time, according to the sign hoisted by the fourth official.
44 min: This is dreadful from Belgium, who are showing no urgency of any kind as half-time approaches. somebody needs to flick the switch. They’re totally dominant, but don’t seem altogether fussed about scoring any time soon.
39 min: Lukaku is played in behind and it looks like he might be able to flick the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper. Penedo saves with his legs.
38 min: Cararrasco concedes a corner under no pressure whatsoever. Barcanes sends the ball into the Belgium penalty area, where it’s half-cleared towards Roman Torres. He stretches and hooks it high. In the Belgian goal, Courtois collects easily.
38 min: Jaime Penedo beats away an Eden Hazard shot at his near post to concede another corner. Nothing comes of it.
36 min: Carrasco and Hazaard combine well down the left, the ball comes to Meunier and he plays a first-time ball into Romelu Lukaku. He’s penalised for a shove on Roman Torres, who goes to ground very easily from the slightest contact by the Belgian striker.
35 min: Panama win their first corner. Edgar Barcenas sends the ball into the mixer, where Kevin De Bruyne heads clear.
33 min: Axel Witsel is fouled by Blas Perez and from the ensuing free-kick, Mertens crosses the ball into the Panama penalty area. Thomas Meunier was waiting to pounce, but the ball was headed clear.
31 min: Another Belgium corner, which Eden Hazard takes. Again, nothing comes of it. Belgium are clearly the superior team, but are going about their business in a very lackadaisical fashion. They should be hammering Panama, but the score remains 0-0.
29 min: Kevin De Bruyne takes the corner short, gets the ball back and crosses it into the penalty area from a better angle. Michael Murillo clears for Panama.
28 min: Free-kick for Belgium, wide on the left, in line with the edge of the Panama penalty area. Kevin De Bruyne sends the ball into the two-man Panama wall and it goes out for a corner. Armando Cooper, who stopped the ball with his face, goes down and is in need of treatment before play can resume.
26 min: Belgium are being allowed play it out from the back with impunity by Panama, who are putting Messrs Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Boyata under no pressure whatsoever as they sally forth out of defence with the ball.
25 min: Another corner for Belgium. Kevin De Bruyne pings the ball deep and it’s cleared by Gabriel Gomez.
24 min: Panama go on a rare sortie into Belgium territory on a counter-attack after relieving Eden Hazard high up the field. Axel Witsel clears the danger when the ball is crossed into the penalty area by Edgar Barcanes.
23 min: From the corner, Hazard sets up De Bruyne for a shot, but the midfielder fires high over the bar.
20 min: Belgium are finding plenty of room to manoeuvre down both flanks and this time they attack down the right. Mertens plays the ball towards the far post, where Romelu Lukaku is lurking unmarked and with intent. He’s foiled with a brilliant interception from Roman Torres, who pokes the ball wide of the upright for a corner. He could quite easily have prodded the ball into his own net, there.
18 min: Thomas Meunier wins Belgium a corner, while Erick Davis is booked for a foul on Dries Mertens in the build-up. The corner is from the training ground and Panama switch off. Dries Mertens is teed up just inside their penalty area, but fires his shot wide.
17 min: Kevin De Bruyne gives away the ball again, this time in the centre-circle. “He’s having one,” opines Mark Lawrenson, who is on co-comms for the BBC.
15 min: Belgium are looking a little careless on the ball and are giving away a lot of possession in midfield. Even Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard are misplacing passes, which is something you don’t see too often.
13 min: Yellow card. Thomas Meunier gets booked for … something. I’m not sure what, with eyes only for the ball, he had his name taken after backing into Jose Rodriguez. It looked fairly innocuous to me.
11 min: Eden Hazard shootsd into the side-netting after pouncing on a dreadfully under-hit pass from Roman Torres to his goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. He was on the byline and had time to look up before shooting, but wasn’t able to slip the ball past Penedo at his near post from such a narrow angle.
9 min: It’s looking ominous for Panama in these early stages, as Belgium’s slow build-up from the back is repeatedly pinning them them back deep inside their own territory. One suspects that an early goal could signal the opening of the floodgates.
8 min: Belgium win a corner. Dries Mertens falls to the ground and appeals for a penalty as the ball is cleared, claiming to have been shoved by Blas Perez. A replay suggests he’s chancing his arm.
6 min: The ball’s played across the Panama penalty area, Hazard dummies cleverly and the ball rolls perfectly for theo nrushing Carrasco. His low drive is on target, but feeble and Jaime Penedo saves comfortably. Carrasco should have done better.
4 min: Belgium attack down the left, with Carrasco, Eden Hazard and De Bruyne combining. Hazard comes up against Michael Murillo as Panama are forced back deep. Good pressure from Belgium, which is alleviated when Thomas Meunier commits a needless foul.
3min: Belgium’s back three ping the ball to and fro among themselves before lumping it forward. Panama win possession, surge forward up the right and a Yannick Carrasco foul earns them a free-kick wide on the right. Erick Davis drills the ball into the Belgium penalty area, where Kevin De Bruyne heads it clear.
1 min: Kevin De Bruyne gets his first touch of the ball and it’s a good one, a pass in behind for Yannick Carrasco to chase. He tries to put in Romelu Lukaku, whose shot is blocked. Belgium appeal for a corner, but referee Janny Sikazwe awards a goal kick.
Belgium v Panama is go!!!
Having heard the first ever rendition of their national anthem at a World Cup finals, Panama’s pumped supporters in Sochi, at home and anywhere else they may be, see their team begin their first ever World Cup match. Panama get the ball rolling …
Not long now: The teams march out on to the pitch and line up for the national anthems.
On TV: The UK coverage has Phil Neville, Cesc Farbregas and Danny Murphy in the studio alongside host Gary Lineker. They’re a fairly erudite and likeable bunch who just mentioned possible tensions between Roberto Martinez and Kevin De Bruyne, who has been critical of his manager’s in the past.
Following a 3-3 draw with Mexico last November, De Bruyne implied his manager had been outwitted by his opposite number. “Mexico were just tactically better,” he told Belgian publication Het Laatste Niewus. “Their system made our five defenders sit deep and we were swimming in midfield – it was five against seven.
“Look, we still put too much on our talents. As long as we don’t have a good tactical system, we will have difficulties against countries like Mexico. It’s a pity that we have not yet found a solution.
“Of course we play with a system that is in principle very defensive, but it is filled with many attacking players who want the ball.
“Then you have a bit of a problem, like against Mexico. It was a match in which we had very little possession and everyone in a system that doesn’t really fit. We now know that something must be changed against such teams.”
Listen up! We’re recording an episode of World Cup Football Daily every night there’s football during this World Cup. Like Croatia’s Nikola Kalinić, I opted to sit out last night’s, but Max Rushden, Jacob Steinberg and Paolo Bandini were in the studio last night, while Archie Rhind-Tutt and Dominic Fifield called in from Russia. If you’re not already you can download it in all the usual pod-places.
Belgium v Panama line-ups
Belgium (3-4-2-1): Courtois, Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen, Meunier, Witsel, De Bruyne, Carrasco, Mertens, E. Hazard, R. Lukaku.
Subs: Mignolet, Casteels, Kompany, Dendoncker, Hazard, Tielemans, Dembele, Fellaini, Chadli, Januzaj, Batshuayi.
Panama (4-1-4-1): Penedo, Murillo, Escobar, R Torres, Davis, Gomez, Godoy, Cooper, J Rodriguez, Barcenas, Perez.
Subs: Claderon, A Rodriguez, Cummings, G Torres, Diaz, Machado, Pimentel, Arroyo, Ovalle, Tejada, Avila, Baloy.
Referee: Janny Sikazwe (Zambia)
Roberto Martinez speaks …
“World Cups don’t respect any generations,” said the Belgium manager. “What they respect is what you do in those three games that we’ve earned the right to have, and then the right to grow in the tournament and see how far we can go.”
Did you know? Belgium have never lost in 11 matches against Concacaf opposition, with nine wins and two draws. Panama, by contrast, have never beaten a European side, drawing four and losing five.
Early team news …
Belgium will have to make do without central defenders Thomas Vermaelen and Vincent Kompany, who will sit this one out with hamstring and groin injuries respectively. Dedryck Boyata will probably play alongside Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen in the heart of their defence.
Spare a thought for Panama winger Albertyo Quintero, who has been ruled out of his country’s first World Cup with a broken foot. Roman Torres, the centre-back whose goal against Costa Rica secured Panama’s passage to this tournament is reported to be fit again after recovering from a hamstring injury.
Group G: Belgium v Panama
Greetings all. Sochi is the venue as Group G gets under way with a meeting between Belgium and Panama. With so many seriously talented players at their disposal, Belgium remain perennial dark horses, although their recent tournament history and doubts about their manager’s defensive acumen preclude them from being considered serious favourites by many observers.
Panama, by contrast, are making their first appearance in a World Cup finals today. Expectations are low, with their coach Hernan Dario Gomez having made it fairly clear that he just wants his side to avoid embarrassment at this tournament. He may well be bluffing, but on paper at least, his team does look rather old and slow. Kick-off is at 4pm (BST), but stay tuned for team news and build-up in the meantime.
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