Ten talking points from the second round of World Cup 2018 matches

VAR confounds sceptics, the World Cup shows its capacity to unite, Peru and Egypt go out partying and passions run high

This hasn’t been an easy talking point to write. But maybe, in the end, it’s not you. It’s us. The experience of Video Assistant Refereeing in the English season had only pointed one way at this World Cup. The endless delays while a middle-aged man fiddles with his ear. The jeers in the stadium. The complete absence of any information. It all felt like something that would diminish decisively the primary experience of the stadium-going fan. But in Russia it has actually worked well. A quick sprint off to check a screen. Decisions made in seconds not minutes. Less fussicking and prancing about and super-officious officialdom. VAR has prevented rather than created controversy, and has stilled the tedious chunter about decisions, so often a last resort for those who would rather not analyse the actual game. If it does nothing else World Cup VAR has saved us from the grisly spectacle of Neymar’s backward dive against Costa Rica being rewarded with a match-turning penalty. If it makes him stay on his feet just a little more, everyone wins. And meanwhile English football take note. It doesn’t have to be an enormous VAR palaver after all.” Barney Ronay

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via Football | The Guardian

World Cup 2018: Groups A and B get set for finales – live!

One of the significant reasons for Gianni Infantino’s push for an radical change to the group stages from the 2026 World Cup onwards is to prevent the raft of dead rubber games in the group stages; apparently these have blighted tournaments of yore.

So as we enter the final round of pool encounters set your alarms for ‘sleep in’ because there will be nothing of interest ahead from here! Argentina, Argentschmina. They won’t be battling for their lives. And but for Philippe Coutinho or Toni Kroos both Brazil and Germany might have been staring at ignominous exits. Nor will there be any fascinating subplots like Portugal’s former coach Carlos Quieroz standing in the way of his own nation’s progress, as he looks to secure passage for Iran instead. Yes, after all those turgid 0-0 matches we’ve seen at Russia 2018, now comes the dead patch; so walk your pets, catch up with old lost friends, and get round to those last three years of tax returns.

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via Football | The Guardian

‘Felipe Baloy scores. Panama make history. The whole country explodes’ | Fernando Cuenco

In Panama City thousands gather in the early morning to watch the ‘Sele’ take on England and in the hearts of everyone Baloy’s ‘consolation’ makes it 1-0 to La Marea Roja

5am, around the Rommel Fernández Stadium. An unusual encounter on the Vía España for a Sunday before dawn. On the one hand there are those who got up early, gathered in groups of friends and families; on the other night owls who come from nightclubs and bars celebrating their Panamanian Saturday night fever, as a preamble to a historic event: the confrontation of the “Sele” with the inventors of football – the English.

6am, dawn in Panama and the stadium’s parking lot begins to fill to the sound of the Dianas, a tribute to the homeland that combines military rigidity and popular music. Street vendors rush to sell breakfast: hojaldras, carimañolas or tortillas, which they deliver to their customers in napkins and paper bags. The time is approaching.

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via Football | The Guardian

Colombia’s triple hammer blow dumps Poland out of World Cup

Sometimes the answer comes by changing the question. Rather than asking whether he should play James Rodríguez – now he was sufficiently recovered from his calf injury to start – or Juan Quintero, and coming up with a fairly obvious response, José Pekerman selected both and was rewarded not merely with a result that keeps alive Colombia’s hopes of making the last 16, but with a performance that made them look like a side that could go a long, long way in the tournament.

Rodríguez and Quintero are contrasting styles of No 10, the modern dynamic runner and the more traditional variant, to be celebrated, perhaps, for what might most politely be referred to as his cerebral approach and economy of movement. Playing them together seemed a major risk, but along with Juan Cuadrado, Colombia’s creative trident picked Poland apart with clinical beauty.

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via Football | The Guardian