No goalkeeper would have saved Harry Kane's penalties against Panama, says Jordan Pickford

Denzil Pinto 26/06/2018
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Flying start: Harry Kane has been sensational for England so far

England’s World Cup number one Jordan Pickford insists no goalkeeper would be able to stop Harry Kane from scoring the sort of penalties he fired in against Panama on Sunday.

Kane twice scored from the spot as part of his hat-trick in the 6-1 thrashing of England’s Group G opponents – a result which sealed progression into the last 16 for Gareth Southgate’s side.

And Pickford, who has conceded a goal in each of his games in Russia so far, reckons the manner in which Kane dispatched his penalties was impressive to see.

Asked if the spot-kicks looked impossible to save, the Everton stopper said: “Pretty much.

“You have got to do a lot of guessing but the power behind it and the accuracy… both pens were the same and when Harry is finishing like that there is no chance.

“He is a top forward for starters, that is his main game – finishing. I was watching him from my end of the pitch and his two penalties were top drawer.”

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Time for Philippe Coutinho to take over from Neymar as Brazil's lead protagonist

Alex Rea 26/06/2018
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Without wandering too much into a philosophical preach, football has a beautiful way of stripping back humanity to its rawest form.

Beamed into the living rooms of millions, Neymar wept in front of our eyes proving that despite his exponential remuneration, he is indeed human, not just the detached caricature we’ve come to know.

Neymar’s eruption of emotion in the immediate aftermath of Brazil’s late 2-0 win over Costa Rica was surprising but understandable given the immense pressure on his shoulders.

However, those drops of delight could make way for streams of suffering if the pre-tournament favourites fail to secure last-16 qualification, requiring at least a point against Serbia at the Spartak Stadium.

Will Neymar and Brazil keep their emotions in check to secure safe passage? We examine the key questions for Tite’s Canarinho ahead of Wednesday’s clash.

ARE BRAZIL BUILT TO HANDLE ROUGH AND TOUGH?

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For all their undoubted style, Brazil must demonstrate they can wed that quality to substance against a strapping Serbia side.

The five-time World Cup winners have let hearts rule heads in the past and it contributed to their spectacular implosion on home turf four years ago.

Neymar’s tears at full-time after scoring to clinch three points against Costa Rica was reminiscent of Brazil’s unravelling in 2014, as the Paris Saint-Germain forward also memorably wailed at the end of their penalty shoot-out success over Chile in the last-16.

We all know what followed, with Tite arriving and managing to pacify the “crybabies” in the intervening years, yet there are concerns that met with resistance, the Selecao could crumble.

They have not yet replicated the fierce form of a side which won six of their last seven games heading into Russia. Initial signs of concern were raised in the 1-1 draw with Switzerland and were fortified in their injury-time win last time out.

Serbia are arguably the toughest test in Group E with their bruising physicality capable of pummeling away at any sensitivity.

Defenders Dusko Tosic, Aleksandar Kolarov and Branislav Ivanovic are experienced warriors while Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic are a heavyweight pair in midfield with the crafty Aleksandar Mitrovic up top a master in the dark arts, too.

Like in boxing, contrasting styles make fights, but if Brazil can escape from the clash with a bruising rather than a knockout, they will be stronger for it.

WILL COUTINHO STEP OUT OF THE SHADOW?

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Whether it’s mental, physical or even both, Brazil’s leading man Neymar has yet to take to centre-stage.

Granted, the 26-year-old has only just returned to action having suffered a foot injury in February while playing for PSG so perhaps rust is to be anticipated.

But Neymar’s presence has become a bit of a hindrance for Brazil’s attacking phases. No player has been dispossessed (15) more in Neymar, his six unsuccessful touches are also the highest for a Brazilian while only two-goal Philippe Coutinho (10) has attempted more shots than Neymar’s nine.

His 15 attempted dribbles are more than double of any other team-mate, which is to be expected, but he’s only been successful on just eight occasions.

The return on this hefty investment of playing through Neymar? One goal, a tap-in against Costa Rica with the last kick of the game. The Canarinho are becoming a little predictable and ponderous when Neymar is in possession with the attacker slowing down their transitions into the final third.

Perhaps it is time for Coutinho to assume the role of lead protagonist. While Neymar carries the pressure, it is the Barcelona playmaker who has alleviated the weight, scoring in the opening two games – his sublime strike against Costa Rica the standout for Brazil so far.

Intelligent off the ball as well as on it, giving Coutinho greater influence could be to everyone’s benefit, most crucially, Neymar.

AGE OR BEAUTY WINNING THE FULL-BACK BATTLE?

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Danilo is sidelined with a thigh injury meaning Marcelo and Fagner will once again take up their spots on Brazil’s flanks.

The diamond duo, though, will clash against granite in the form of Serbia’s Kolarov and Ivanovic on Wednesday.

Serbia’s full-backs are the combined age of 66 and both Marcelo and Fagner will hope their opposite number’s enterprise to push up and support Dusan Tadic and Adem Ljajic will provide a route 66 to exploit Serbia out wide.

Both Brazilians are pivotal in creating passing triangles out wide so the full-back battle will make for a fascinating one.

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Jesse Lingard and Kieran Trippier evidence of evolving England who are finally capturing hearts of a nation

Matt Jones 26/06/2018
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Jesse Lingard and Kieran Trippier encapsulate all that is dynamic about this very different England squad.

Neither are star turns, with striking sensation and skipper Harry Kane, twinkle-toed terror Raheem Sterling, midfield tyro Dele Alli and Manchester United marvel Marcus Rashford the pride of Three Lions fans.

They are the only standouts in this England squad, which pales in comparison to the country’s World Cup contingent at past tournaments.

Feast your eyes on the following array of former England artists.

David Beckham, Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Paul Scholes and Michael Owen featured at France 1998. Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Owen Hargreaves and Joe Cole were in the 23 in South Korea and Japan four years later.

Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott went to Germany in 2006. Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Jermain Defoe, Ledley King and Michael Carrick made the plane to South Africa in 2010.

Four years ago, England boasted Jack Wilshere, Daniel Sturridge, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw in Brazil.

The above 25 were just the tip of an iceberg of talent the managers tasked with leading the charge toward a second World Cup success could call upon.

Yet despite the embarrassment of riches Glenn Hoddle, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson had at their disposal, one of football’s biggest nations and one of only eight to hoist the famous Jules Rimet trophy high, have failed to even grace a World Cup semi-final in the last 28 years.

How ironic then that a squad devoid of much stardust is finally capturing the hearts of a nation when previous talent-laden teams continuously underachieved.

Lampard, Gerrard, Scholes etc perpetually went into tournaments with hopes built up high, perhaps too high. But talk very soon turned from raised expectations to dissecting the latest disaster at a major tournament.

Kieran Trippier has been in fine from for England in Russia.

Kieran Trippier has been in fine from for England in Russia.

Meanwhile, you felt the relationship between the England camp and media steadily deteriorating after each debacle.

In Russia, however, journalists and players have been playing darts together. And this England team are certainly poking holes in past perceptions – typified by Lingard and Trippier.

Trippier plodded through the early stages of his career, quietly coming through the ranks at unglamorous Barnsley and then Burnley after failing to make the grade at Manchester City.

Lingard’s rise across the city at United has been more public, but also problematic. He could score the winner for England in the World Cup final and still wouldn’t be able to convince most of his critics to take him seriously as a footballer.

Both are now quietly making murmurs in Russia.

Lingard scored a breathtaking goal in the 6-1 rout of Panama after a lively display against Tunisia, even though he was largely demonised for the amount of chances he squandered.

But you can’t ignore the stats. His 95.1-per-cent pass success rate is the 41st best among players at the World Cup. Lingard leaps to third when filtering out players that have played less than 45 minutes and aren’t defenders or goalkeepers.

Only three of his 61 passes have been misplaced and he is joint third among team-mates in tackles.

Trippier, meanwhile, has an assist and has delivered seven key passes – joint third with Joshua Kimmich and second behind Kevin De Bruyne and Salman Al Faraj.

So while Kane plunders goals in the hope of emulating Gary Lineker as the only England player to win the Golden Boot, at Mexico 86, overall this England team is greater than the sum of its parts.

And while analysts and even their own supporters might moan there isn’t much magic in this Three Lions, there is definitely something special about this squad.

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