Qatar World Cup – England and Wales make mark on Football World Cup on day of off-pitch drama

England thrashed Iran to take charge of the group and then Wales fought back to score a point against the US. But what happened off the pitch was perhaps even more significant on the second day of the Football World Cup in Qatar.

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It was the day football fans at home dreamed of. Wales in their first Football World Cup in 64 years; England began her campaign with the sincere hope of finally putting an end to 56 years of suffering. And both can be satisfied with their first salvos – Gareth Southgate’s men smashed Iran to lead the group and then Wales fighting back to score a point against the US.

But this World Cup is not ordinary at all. So far, there has been more drama off the pitch than on it, and it’s been no more than 24 hours. The decision to ban captains from wearing the OneLove headband, a gesture of solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, was made late in the evening, just three hours before kick-off in England. The disappointment of the English and Welsh managers was obvious, but in the end they felt they had no choice.

Meanwhile, outside the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, thousands of English and Iranian fans were still queuing to enter the stadium just 15 minutes before kick-off. The Football World Cup app crashed and with it their digital tickets disappeared. Some stayed to watch the match on their phones while sitting outside in the lobby. And while the OneLove armbands could have been replaced by FIFA-sanctioned ones, that hasn’t kept politics out of football.

England players took a knee as promised, as they have throughout Euro 2020, and the Iranian team refused to sing the national anthem. It was a very brave move by the entire team in support of the protests at home. They told us last week that they discussed together what to do, at 4:00 pm Monday afternoon we found out.

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They are well known in Iran, the soccer-obsessed country across the bay from Qatar. Their stance has not gone unnoticed in the stadium and may not go unpunished when they return. Fans from Wales dressed in rainbow clothing were not allowed to enter the Ahmed bin Ali stadium. Among them was former Welsh football team captain Laura McAllister, who wore a rainbow panama hat.

Now a professor at Cardiff University, McAllister tweeted: So despite the nice words on the eve of the Football World Cup, Cymru rainbow bucket hats, including mine, have been confiscated at the stadium. I had a conversation about this with the stewards – we have video evidence. This Football World Cup is getting better, but we will continue to stand up for our values.

FIFA has apologized to one of them, but has not yet explained why they were denied entry. It couldn’t have been better on the pitch for England. Southgate will be upset by the two goals his side have conceded, but scoring six against first opponents is the start of a dream. After a poor first half, Wales supporters will draw. A late penalty by Gareth Bale gave them hope and they are still ahead in Group A.

The two home countries will meet in the final match of the group stage next Tuesday a match that already whets the appetite. On Tuesday, Lionel Messi’s Argentina team kick off the match against Saudi Arabia, while the French team ends the day with a match against Australia.

The return of the Love Train? How England’s set piece plan impressed

Gareth Southgate and his coaches have identified set piece prowess as the key to success in international tournaments, and England’s menace and ingenuity in this regard have been shown against Iran. England’s cornering ‘ride of love’ proved its worth at the 2018 Football World Cup in Russia, with John Stones and Harry Maguire both scoring en route to the semi-finals. Maguire’s aerial prowess is one of the reasons Southgate has stuck to the defensive end despite concerns about his form at Manchester United.

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From the opening minutes of Monday’s game, the largely people-centric Iranian system struggled to contain England. England could very well have been penalized by Kieran Trippier’s corner kick that sent Stones and Maguire to the ground. For more know about Football World Cup Final Tickets.

The line-up included two groups of three players, with Raheem Sterling distracting the goalkeeper and Harry Kane and Declan Rice in the penalty area. The Stones, Maguire and Bukayo Saka move to the edge of the penalty area and are at gunpoint, creating space behind the penalty mark for the centre-backs to attack. Saka is really a bait to take away one of Iran’s defenders. The Stones and Maguire were too strong for their markers and it was clear rugby had gone down the turf.

Unsurprisingly, England later scored from a set piece and Saka scored the first goal in a 2-0 win after Maguire was knocked down. To show variety, this time Luke Shaw took an outswinger from the left. Naturally, Rice, Kane and Sterling are not as close to the net as they would be for an inwinger, but once again Saka, Stones and Maguire are grouped into a trio. Saka doesn’t even look at Shaw when the corner is given and is not noticed.

Shaw’s serve hit Maguire deep in the head and with Iran’s defense crumbling, Saki has room to bounce the ball before hitting the net. The Arsenal winger is not a direct threat from corners in the traditional sense, but England have found a way to make him dangerous in the second phase of the game.

Who is better suited for corner play, outswingers or inswingers is a live discussion in the game. Outswingers result in more shots because they deflect away from the goaltender and defender covering the near post, but these shots are of lower quality. The chances from inwingers are generally of higher quality (closer to the target), but hitting the first player or catching the goalkeeper or punching them poses more risk.

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This first-half corner from Kieran Trippier shows how England went from a three-three split for inwingers to a four-two split for outswingers, with Kane joining the Stones and Maguire as potential targets. Sterling stays in the six-yard box, sniffing at the leftovers.

England also made good use of quick free kicks from midfield. Instead of throwing the ball into the mixer from a less-than-optimal position, Trippier twice attempted to serve Kane over the Iran defense side when the striker was able to roll his man and use his upper body. Like many centre-forwards, Kane’s cross is surprisingly good and was the reason for Sterling’s goal, England’s third.

On a positive note for Southgate, England did not rely on set pieces to look dangerous, with Jude Bellingham and Mason Mount taking aggressive positions between the lines and moving smoothly between wingers and full-backs. Corner drills were part of convincing attacking play, not the sum of it. England could have beaten Iran without such attention to detail, but Southgate knows set pieces will become more important as the tournament progresses and the margin shrinks.

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