England’s wing men Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young are confident there is enough firepower in the side to share the scoring burden if Harry Kane’s hot streak ever cools down.
Trippier and Young were charged with providing the width, and the crosses, in England’s 2-1 victory over Tunisia and each provided a corner which ended with Kane converting.
With 15 goals in 25 appearances – including a record of 10 in 10 during Gareth Southgate’s managerial reign – The Tottenham forward is out on his own as the Three Lions’ danger man in Russia.
The rest of the starting XI at the Volgograd Arena boast just 12 between them, including seven from Young’s previous incarnation as an attacker.
Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli all have superior records at club level and have been backed to start chipping in soon after a handful of chances went begging in Volgograd.
“If Harry doesn’t score we’ve got players who can,” said Tripper.
“We’re one team over here and we know we’ve got quality all over the pitch. We’ve got Marcus Rashford, Raheem, Dele, Ruben (Loftus-Cheek), they’ve had fine seasons, Jesse has as well…Vards (Jamie Vardy).
“They’ve had excellent seasons for their clubs and hopefully in this tournament they can provide some for us.”
Young, fresh from his first World Cup appearance at the age of 32, was singing from the same hymn sheet.
“I think you need goals from all over the pitch and I think that’s what we’ll be looking to do,” he said.
“You want a major goalscorer, a striker that’s going to take chances, but we’ve got that in abundance around the team with Vards, Welbs (Danny Welbeck) and the kid Rashford.
“It’s not just the strikers, it’s the midfielders as well. We saw Jesse had a few chances, Raz (Sterling) had a few chances as well. There’s plenty of goals I’ve seen all over this team and I think if everyone’s chipping in and pulling in the same direction it just sets us up right for the next game.”
There is no doubt who will be carrying the nation’s hopes when they take on unfancied Panama on Sunday and it is not just fans who feel better about life when Kane is on the field.
“If things are not working he’s got a big voice in the dressing room, everyone listens to him,” said Trippier.
“He has a presence. When he’s with you, you just feed off him. He lifts you when he’s around, he just lifts you. He dedicates his life to football. He’s so professional.”
What looked like a straightforward one-two finish for Spain and Portugal in Group B was ripped wide open last Friday as the two European powerhouses shared the spoils while Iran rocked Morocco with a 95th-minute winner.
Expect Iran to pack bodies behind the ball with the knockouts now a genuine possibility but Spain, despite their Cristiano Ronaldo-shaped frustrations, looked as slick as ever in that 3-3 thriller with Diego Costa’s added snarl.
Below are some of the tactical talking points could well come to the fore in Wednesday’s clash in Kazan. Check out the key players analysis here.
ASENSIO’S AN ACE IN THE PACK
Fernando Hierro decided against unleashing Real Madrid’s prized finisher, Marco Asensio, off the bench with the game on the line on Friday.
Thiago replaced a tiring Andres Iniesta and the ever-industrious Lucas Vasquez arrived on the scene to shore up the right-hand side to see the win out … until Ronaldo happened.
However, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where Hierro will need a locksmith with a penchant for the spectacular off the bench should Iran put on a defensive masterclass.
The 22-year-old is just about the fastest option available to the Spain boss outside his sub strikers and his left foot has conjured up special goals for Real, be it through tap-ins or long-range howitzers, on a regular basis.
Let’s not forget either that Atletico Madrid’s Spanish army knife Saul Niguez is also parked on that bench – while he’s not got the finest of senior goal records, just a year ago he was taking the golden boot back home from the Under-21 European Championship.
Both players were key cogs to that side that reached the final. Time for the big leagues.
IRAN SHOULD PLAY A TUN
Iran’s defensive strength was well-known to any observer of the AFC qualifiers long before the gates were shut on Morocco in St Petersburg.
Spain, of course, are an uptick in quality to any side they’ll have faced under Carlos Queiroz but there is a blueprint to follow – Tunisia’s.
The North Africans were all at sea against England on Monday, especially in the first half, but found a way to trouble Spain – albeit in a friendly – earlier this month where they lost by just one goal in Krasnodar.
Tunisia packed the midfield in a 4-5-1 formation, soaked up the pressure and burst away on the counter attack, leading to a surfeit of chances before the break.
Team Melli, as it so happens, have been moulded into a swift side on the counter under Queiroz with Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh the twooutlets with pace to burn.
While it is rather optimistic to expect that duo to pierce Spain’s covering defenders, if they can draw a few fouls or corners, players such as centre-back Morteza Pouraliganji are dangerous from set-pieces. And never count out an own goal …
GIVE INIESTA A SIESTA
Hierro is not expected to make many, if any changes to the line-up that started against Portugal though there may have been one player that woke up on Saturday morning feeling the strain more than most.
Andres Iniesta started 46 games for club and country last season – a 16-game increase on 2016/17 – with Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde keen to give the Nou Camp as many last glimpses as possible after it became clear he was to leave for the Far East.
Spain certainly do not have the luxury of playing too cute with their starting XI after their opening draw but they have a player in Saul who can give La Roja some width, or the metronomic Thiago in reserve.
Given that Morocco should be the sterner challenge, and there’ll surely be knockout games to come, preserving Iniesta should be a consideration.
Unfortunately for Colombia, an early red card for teammate Carlos Sanchez meant their star striker was forced to forage with little support, and he was unable to make a telling impact in their 2-1 loss to Japan.
Here’s a closer look at Falcao’s performance.
Goals – 0
Assists – 0
Shots – 2
Shots on target – 2
Pass accuracy – 92%
Key Passes – 0
Dribbles – 0
Touches – 47
The Monaco striker was dealt a bad hand with Colombia being forced down to 10 men so early in the game, leaving their star striker isolated up front. That meant he had to lead the line with little attacking support, which he did with aplomb, putting in a bruising display that kept the Japanese defenders on their toes.
He’ll have wanted to mark this game – his World Cup debut, remarkably – with a goal, but the opportunities he had to score were all difficult half-chances.
Movement – Playing as a lone striker, Falcao made sure the Japanese back-line was aware of his presence, drifting onto the shoulder of the last man whenever he could and moving all across the pitch as he tried his luck against everyone in the opposition back four.
Physicality – Shorn of his old pace because of injuries, Falcao’s physicality is now one of his strongest attributes, and it was on display here. He terrorised Japan’s defence, with Maya Yoshida in particular struggling to handle his strength.
Never quite got into prime position to score, with his best chances a couple of difficult, over-the-shoulder attempts to score. In fairness there may not have been much more he could have done, especially given his side’s numerical disadvantage and chief creator James Rodriguez starting on the bench. But Falcao sets high standards for himself, and he’ll be the first to admit he didn’t meet them on Tuesday. It was a fighting performance rather than a brilliant one, when Colombia needed brilliance.
12th minute, SHOT: Nearly a classic goal from Falcao, tries guiding a dropping ball from a free-kick into the bottom corner, but his shot is straight at the keeper.
34th minute, SHOT: Another nearly moment as again, Falcao got his foot to a ball dropping over his shoulder, but at full stretch he just about gets a toe-poke that’s straight at the keeper again.
37th minute, FOUL: It was a cheap foul, but credit to Falcao, who muscled his defender and put himself in position to be fouled. Juan Quintero scored a brilliant goal from the resulting free-kick.
Falcao showed many of his best qualities on Tuesday, his strength, intelligent movement, and most of all his fighting spirit coming to the fore as he tried to lead a salvage job for 10-man Colombia. What was missing was the flash of brilliance that he’s capable of, and needed to deliver as Colombia waged an uphill battle. Twice, he came just short of producing a memorable goal, and in a game of fine margins that ended up being the difference.
RATING – 6/10