Sweden edge S Korea, Belgium stroll
NIZHNY NOVGOROD,18th June: Sweden won an opening World Cup game for the first time since 1958 and ended their worrying goal drought with a 1-0 victory over South Korea that was a must-win if they want to progress from a tricky-looking Group F.
After dominating the game but missing a string of chances, Sweden won a 65th-minute penalty when Kim Min-woo brought down Viktor Claesson in the box. Salvadoran referee Joel Aguilar initially waved the Swedes away, before being called to consult the Video Assistant Referee system.
In the second VAR-awarded penalty of the World Cup, Sweden's 33-year-old captain Andreas Granqvist stepped up to sweep the ball low and left of otherwise impressive goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo. That fired up the hordes of yellow-clad Swedish fans, who had been fearful their team would misfire again after failing to score in any of their previous three games. Sweden had not won an opening game at any World Cup since 1958, when they were runners-up in their best performance to date.
The Asians actually began the game far brighter, pressing and harrying for the first 15 minutes against an initially sluggish-looking Sweden. But the Scandinavians quickly found their rhythm, coping comfortably with Korea's attacks despite the absence of defender Victor Lindelof through illness. The Swedes created a string of chances, most falling to Marcus Berg, who had one close-range side-foot shot spectacularly saved by Cho off his knee in the 21st minute.
As expected, both teams' single star players were at the heart of their best moves, the silky Son Heung-min busting a lung to try and drive Korea forward from the left flank, and the pacy Emil Forsberg constantly feeding Sweden's big frontmen. Sweden next face Germany, while Korea take on in-form Mexico who pulled off a major shock by beating the world champions in their Group F opener. Few will give a chance to Korea, who have now only won one of their last 10 World Cup games.
Belgium outclass Panama Belgium’s creativity and power proved too much for World Cup debutants Panama as the Group G favourites overcame the heroics of goalkeeper Jaime Penedo and a massed defence to run out 3-0 winners on Monday. It took a wonderful dipping volley from Dries Mertens on the right-hand edge of the area just after halftime to break the deadlock, however, giving Penedo no chance after a first half in which he had defied Mertens, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. Hazard laid the ball off to Kevin De Bruyne who flipped a diagonal ball with the outside of his foot through for a lurking Lukaku to head home in the 69th minute.
The Manchester United striker made it 3-0 in the 75th, latching on to a through pass from Hazard and chipping over Penedo. Belgium, unbeaten in their last 20 matches, will now be full of confidence for games against Tunisia and England.